Category Archives: Chapter 14
Once again we got a chapter that is largely to be seen as a single unit. Until Verse 25, all of the action takes place while Jesus is having dinner with some Pharisees. It’s odd, but much has been made about how Jesus consorted with the undesirable element of society, the poor, tax collectors, women, etc., and he certainly did. But it’s not often pointed out, or commented upon, that Jesus also spent a fair bit of time being entertained by the upright members of society as is happening here. This aspect of Jesus’ ministry has certainly escaped my notice up to this point by hiding in plain sight. The question then must be asked if this consorting with the establishment was accurate, or if it merely served as a setting whereby the audience served as foil for Jesus’ teaching. For example, in this chapter Jesus provides two lessons that are particularly apt for such an audience. The first is on the virtue of humility which comes in the admonition not to take the best seats at a dinner party, but the worst. This ends in the admonition that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, which helps establish humility as an ideal virtue. This was novel understanding of social behaviour, for pagans as well as for Jews. The setting of the story drives this latter home very effectively. In fact, it may be a little too effective.
By this I am implying that Jesus likely did not spend much time hanging out with Pharisees. Mark has a version of the last/first dichotomy, but his is set very differently. The first expression is after being questioned by a rich young man in Chapter 10:31, the second a dozen verses later when he admonishes the sons of Zebedee for asking to be seated at the right & left hand when Jesus comes into his kingdom. The wording there is not identical to the wording here. In Mark, Jesus says the first shall be last; in Matthew & Luke the wording is that those exalting themselves will be humbled. Different words, but the thought behind them is identical. The latter two turn it into self-exaltation, but that is what James & John attempted to do. And yet, despite the overwhelming similarity of the sentiment, this is considered to be part of Q because Matthew & Luke use the humbled/exalted language where Mark did not. However, fascinating as that is, the topic here is the authenticity. Since Mark does not include any instances of Jesus eating with the establishment while Matthew and Luke does, I believe it is safe to infer from this that the setting we find here is completely fictional. It runs against the grain of pretty much all of Mark, where Jesus is truly an itinerant preacher who encounters those listening to him as he moves from place to place. We have to ask where this all transpired, what the circumstances were that led to Jesus dining with Pharisees? Where is he? In Caphernaum? We were told in Chapter 7 that he had entered that town, but later we are told he went from town to town. At one point, he was at the house of Mary and Martha, which was in Bethany, hard under the walls of Jerusalem, but there is also reason to suspect he was still traveling. This is important for the question of who– or what– Jesus was, how he was seen by the various groups he encountered, or what his reputation was. In Mark, the itinerant nature of Jesus career is very consistent with that of a wonder-worker. They would travel about since staying in one place too long would probably result is an accumulation of failures; this would help explain why the prophet was not honored in his home town.
Just as a bit of a side note. Matthew places the humbled/exalted injunction in the speech when he casts woes onto the various social groups. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees, he says, love the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogue. Luke places the scene in the house of a Pharisee, where the guests are all angling for the places of honor. Coincidence? Do you still think that Luke hadn’t read Matthew?
While at the house, Jesus also cures a man of dropsy on the Sabbath. This gives him the opportunity to override the Jewish idea of what was allowed and not allowed to be done on the Sabbath. In theory, one was supposed to do little or nothing that wasn’t devoted to God. Hence the Puritan custom of spending a big chunk of time in church, and devoting the rest to scripture reading and psalm-singing. Jesus sort of says that this isn’t the way it needs to be. And this sentiment is found very early in Mark, where he cures a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, which causes some consternation. This reaction rather makes me suspect that this story did not trace back to Jesus; as with the supersession of the Jews– a parable about which we also get in this chapter– this seems more suited to a time after Paul. Recall that Paul tells us of his dispute with James, brother of the lord, concerned Jewish customs, or laws, such as dietary practice and circumcision; James thought their retention necessary, Paul did not. Exerting oneself on the Sabbath, or the extent to which this was permissible was another such custom. Bear in mind that the idea of a week, with a weekend, did not exist in the pagan world. The Roman calendar just numbered the days in a month without breaking them into weeks. This practice was an innovation of the Christin Empire, when celebrating the sabbath on a recurring basis became a priority. As such, early pagan followers of Jesus probably found it difficult not to work on one day out of seven. This would be particularly true of a follower of Jesus who was the slave of a pagan master. In fact, this habit of wanting one day in seven off was a major criticism of Christians by their pagan contemporaries, who found the Christians lazy. So not needing to be overly concerned about Jewish custom regarding the Sabbath would have been a real concern to pagan converts.
In addition, it is significant that the sentiment traces back to Mark. For something to be traceable back to Jesus, its presence in Mark is probably a necessary, but not sufficient condition to be considered as authentic. That this appears already in Mark indicates that the transition to pagan converts occurred much earlier than is generally assumed. At the very latest, my suspicion is that the destruction of Jerusalem was a major impetus to this transition; therefore, the inclusion of the story in Mark probably points to a date post-destruction for the writing of that gospel. It must be noted, however, that this is not conclusive; if the transition was underway already in the 50s, as a result of Paul’s evangelizing, then it would not be necessary for this to have come about after 70. So again, put all of this on a scale and weigh all the pieces as units to determine the date of Mark. As mentioned, the anachronistic nature of this story ties in with the parable of the man giving a banquet. This was clearly meant as an explanation of why the Jews hadn’t converted en masse; as such, it’s completely out of place in the 30s.
There is one aspect of the story of the banquet that was not discussed in the commentary section because the connexion had not occurred to me. So much ink has been spilled on the distinction between “blessed are the poor” and “blessed are the poor in spirit” that the topic has become cliché; normally, that would give me pause about discussing it further. The problem is that the focus of the topic has been, IMO, misplaced. The debate almost always centers on which of the two is “more primitive”, and this idea of “primitivity” is a core tenet of the Q debate. Since Luke’s version has two fewer words, this is taken as conclusive proof that Luke’s version is “more primitive”. Well, okay, that’s a bit harsh on my part. “Poor in spirit” is rather more of a subtle concept than “poor”; but then, that is really my point. The one is not necessarily more primitive; it’s just different. Luke’s version has a different emphasis than Matthew’s version. Matthew is talking about humility; Luke is talking about actual poverty. Being humble is a behaviour, or a tenet, of Christianity as we understand it, and Matthew speaks to this. Luke, OTOH, is talking about social justice. More, he underscores this message twice in this chapter. In the first, he admonishes his well-to-do audience that they should invite the downtrodden to the banquets they give; of this class of people, Jesus singled out the poor. He does not instruct the Pharisees to invite the poor in spirit. The second instance comes in the discussion of the wedding banquet. When the invited guests, which would have included the sort of people gathered at the actual dinner Jesus attended, demur their invitations, Jesus once again instructs the slave to invite those same downtrodden, and again among them are the poor.
I wanted to blow this into a big demonstration that Luke shows much more concern for the actual poor than Matthew; one avenue I pursued was to check the number of instances when the word “poor” (ptōchoi, and variants) occur in each gospel. This is a standard analysis. Luke shows an increase of usage of the word of 33% over Matthew; and that goes up to a 40% increase if we eliminate the “poor in spirit” cite in Matthew. Now, if you have any sense of statistics, you immediately realized that the elimination of a single occurrence resulting in such a large increase indicates that we are working from very low numbers. If I have a dollar and get another, my wealth has doubled, it has increased 100%. If I have a million dollars and have a 1% increase in my wealth, I’ve picked up a whole lot more money* than I did when I doubled from a single dollar. So it is here. Matthew uses the word six times; Luke uses it eight times. 8 – 6 = 2, and 2 is 33% of 6.
The results were less conclusive than I’d hoped, but still, I believe, significant. Despite the low numbers, it can be argued that the message in Luke is qualitatively– if not so much quantitively– different from the message in Matthew. There is nothing in the first gospel such as we have here. In fact, Matthew, in his version of what The Q Reader calls “the Great Supper”, does not specify whom his slaves should invite. In Matthew, the lord simply tells his slaves to go out to the roads & highways and invite whomever they might find. Luke, in contrast, specifies that the poor and others are to be those invited– or compelled. And then Matthew simply has no correlation to the passage about inviting the poor to one’s banquets as we find in Luke 14:12. In Matthew, the poor are more theoretical; sell your goods, or the expensive perfume and give to the poor; the poor will always be with you; the poor have the gospel preached to them. For those of you keeping score at home, you only counted four, not five uses of “the poor”. That is because the six cites of “the poor” in Matthew includes its use twice in the same passage. In the tale of the expensive perfume, the disciples say it could have been sold and the proceeds given to the, to which Jesus says “the poor will always be with you”. The contrast to Luke is sharp. Luke not only has the two passages in this chapter, he also has the searing tale of Dives and Lazarus. So the poor in Luke are real to a degree, or they have a presence, that does not appear in Matthew.
*$10,000, to be exact.
This section will conclude Chapter 14. When last we saw our hero, he was teaching at a dinner party that included Pharisees and Scribes. He was providing a lesson on why or how the Jews had been superseded, and no longer had a privileged place in the queue to enter the kingdom. By this, we can probably assume that we can substitute “The Life” as a more or less synonymous term. He has now left the party, and is traveling about. Without further ado, let’s get to the
25 Συνεπορεύοντο δὲ αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοί, καὶ στραφεὶς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς,
26 Εἴ τις ἔρχεται πρός με καὶ οὐ μισεῖ τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὰ τέκνα καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ τὰς ἀδελφάς, ἔτι τε καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἑαυτοῦ, οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
27 ὅστις οὐ βαστάζει τὸν σταυρὸν ἑαυτοῦ καὶ ἔρχεται ὀπίσω μου οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
Proceeding with him were great crowds, and turning he said to them, (26) “If someone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and his wife and children and his own brothers and sisters, and even yet his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (27) Who does not take up his cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple.
Just a note on the Greek. Jesus is not being followed by “great crowds”, but by a “great crowd”. The word for “crowd” is pluralized in Greek, whereas in English it’s an aggregate term (like “herd”), so it’s usually used in the singular except when there are different groups. Then it can be pluralized as “crowds”.
This is something else that Jesus never said; regardless, it is included in Q, which is supposed to be a collection of the sayings of Jesus. Except when it includes stuff that he never said (most of it) or stuff that John the Baptist said. It is actually a collection of instances where Luke agrees with Matthew against Mark, which supposedly never happens. It doesn’t only because, such instances, by definition, are what constitutes Q. There is a significant amount of circularity in this “argument”. It’s in Q because it’s in Matthew & Luke but not in Mark, and we know it’s in Q because it’s not in Mark but it’s in Matthew and Luke. This is where if scholars would take a step back and look at what the text actually says, rather than recording where it is and isn’t, they might arrive at a different conclusion. But then, to jettison Q is to admit that Jesus probably never gave the Sermon on the Mount or instituted the Pater. That conclusion has to be avoided at all costs.
Why do we know it’s post-Jesus? Because it betrays a knowledge of the end of the road. It has an other-worldly focus that is largely absent in Mark. It also more or less assumes the crucifixion, which a living Jesus would not have known about (unless he was a divine individual with foreknowledge); however, that part of the narrative is easily excised, or removed from the preceding part. The judgement that Jesus did not say the first part is based on a couple of things. First, this message does not play much of a role in Mark’s portrayal. My new working theory is that Jesus was primarily a wonder-worker in his lifetime, and that he was executed for this crime. Forty-five men were executed for magic during the reign of Tiberius, who was emperor when Jesus was executed if we are to believe Luke’s time-line. My source for this number does not say whether this was the total in Rome, or throughout the empire; the former is more likely since the primary sources available would have been largely focused on the capital. It is very important to stress that only one pagan emperor– Diocletian, in the early 3rd Century– conducted anything resembling a systemic, programatic persecution of a particular group. Astrologers– often a generic term for magicians of all sorts– were expelled from Rome on a number of occasions, but they were, generally, not executed. And what happened in the provinces was often different from what happened in the capital; even under Diocletian, the various provincial governors pursued the persecution with varying degrees of enthusiasm. OTOH, there were governors who undertook persecution even when the emperor was not terribly interested. There is the famous letter of Pliny the Younger asking for guidance on how to deal with this new group called Christians. Still, if the emperor had a bee in his bonnet about a certain thing, there was incentive for an ambitious governor to fall in line and toady up to the big guy by going along in their province. So Jesus’ being executed for magic is within the realm of possibility, and is not without support. In fact, there is a stronger historical argument for this position than there is for the tall-tale in the gospels.
The point of all that is, if Jesus was primarily a wonder-worker, then this sort of next-world focus doesn’t make a lot of sense. This is not the sort of thing a wonder-worker would focus on. Of course, that is a big “if”. A contrary argument can be made from Paul, who is very focused on salvation. The question is whether this was a Pauline creation based on his understanding of the resurrection. Honestly, this is a topic and an argument that needs to happen. There needs to be a major debate about what happened between Jesus and Paul. What were the conditions that Paul found. This sort of debate goes on all the time in Greek history (Rome has rather better sources). The 490s in Athens, for example, is largely– but not completely– a blank slate, but the debate to fill in the blanks is ferocious. When it comes to the period between Jesus and Paul, and Jesus/Paul and Mark is…crickets, as the current saying goes. There is nothing, or, at most, next to nothing. This is yet another indication that the debate about the historical Jesus is not being conducted by historians, but by Scripture experts. More, these experts make no attempt even to set the debate on a solid basis of historical research and argument. I approached Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God with high hopes and great enthusiasm, only to have this dashed within the first dozen or so pages. It proved to be just another retelling of the story that assumed the gospels could– indeed, should– be taken seriously as historical records, and that the evangelists (Paul largely absent, IIRC, but I could be wrong) were taking excruciating pains to ensure they were telling exactly the same story. Well, that may be (grossly) overstated regarding this particular book, but it’s the approach taken by pretty much every work on the historical Jesus I’ve read. So if I’ve mashed this in with others, I apologize, but the point remains that there was almost nothing in this book that differentiated it significantly from so many others.
25 Ibant autem turbae multae cum eo; et conversus dixit ad illos:
26 “Si quis venit ad me et non odit patrem suum et matrem et uxorem et filios et fratres et sorores, adhuc et animam suam, non potest esse meus discipulus.
27 Et, qui non baiulat crucem suam et venit post me, non potest esse meus discipulus.
28 τίς γὰρ ἐξ ὑμῶν θέλων πύργον οἰκοδομῆσαι οὐχὶ πρῶτον καθίσας ψηφίζει τὴν δαπάνην, εἰ ἔχει εἰς ἀπαρτισμόν;
“For if a certain one of you wishing to build a tower do you not first sitting down count the costs, (to see) if you have enough towards the finishing?
There you go: Jesus advising a cost-benefit analysis before undertaking a capital improvement project. Quite the little capitalist there, no?
28 Quis enim ex vobis volens turrem aedificare, non prius sedens computat sumptus, si habet ad perficiendum?
29 ἵνα μήποτε θέντος αὐτοῦ θεμέλιον καὶ μὴ ἰσχύοντος ἐκτελέσαι πάντες οἱ θεωροῦντες ἄρξωνται αὐτῷ ἐμπαίζειν
30 λέγοντες ὅτι Οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἤρξατο οἰκοδομεῖν καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσεν ἐκτελέσαι.
31 ἢ τίς βασιλεὺς πορευόμενος ἑτέρῳ βασιλεῖ συμβαλεῖν εἰς πόλεμον οὐχὶ καθίσας πρῶτον βουλεύσεται εἰ δυνατός ἐστιν ἐν δέκα χιλιάσιν ὑπαντῆσαι τῷ μετὰ εἴκοσι χιλιάδων ἐρχομένῳ ἐπ’ αὐτόν;
32 εἰ δὲ μή γε, ἔτι αὐτοῦ πόρρω ὄντος πρεσβείαν ἀποστείλας ἐρωτᾷ τὰ πρὸς εἰρήνην.
33 οὕτως οὖν πᾶς ἐξ ὑμῶν ὃς οὐκ ἀποτάσσεται πᾶσιν τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ ὑπάρχουσιν οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
34 Καλὸν οὖν τὸ ἅλας: ἐὰν δὲ καὶ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῇ, ἐν τίνι ἀρτυθήσεται;
35 οὔτε εἰς γῆν οὔτε εἰς κοπρίαν εὔθετόν ἐστιν: ἔξωβάλλουσιν αὐτό. ὁ ἔχων ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
“For if a certain one of you wishing to build a tower do you not first sitting down count the costs, (to see) if you have enough towards the finishing? (29) In order lest when the foundation of it is laid, and not being able to finish it completely, those seeing he began will mock him (30) saying ‘This dude began to build and was not able to finish.’ (31) If a certain king going out to ponder a war with another king, does he not first sitting down take counsel if he is able to encounter with ten thousand the other with twenty thousand coming against him? Otherwise, upon him being far away he sends his elders to ask for peace. (33) In this way all of you who do not arrange all his possessions to begin, he is not able to be my disciple. (34) Salt is good. But if salt becomes bland, what does it season? (35) Neither is it well placed for the earth nor for the dunghill. Throw it away. The one having ears to hear, let him hear.”
Here we have what are really two distinct thoughts. The first is warning of the preparations needed to follow Jesus. The second is the bit about salt. They really have nothing to do with each other. Yes, it is possible to stretch them so that they can be made to fit together, if a bit tenuously, but the fact is that in plain sense they don’t. The bit about building towers and going to war does work with the section directly previous since it follows up on what is necessary to become a disciple. The metaphors are novel; they are not held to be part of Q because they are not in Matthew in any similar form. Whence did they come? Were they part of a separate tradition that traced from Jesus while it managed to bypass both Mark and Matthew? Sure, it’s possible. But we’re talking oral transmission for going on 60 years. Stuff that MLK Jr said is remembered, but it was all recorded or written down, so the analogy doesn’t hold at all. It comes to the point where someone will believe what they want to believe, but from the perspective of writing history, connecting this to Jesus is really unlikely. Now, there are Greek & Roman historians who argue about how much we can rely on Arrian’s stories of Alexander the Great, and some will argue that much of it is likely based on fact since Alexander was such a well-known person. Stories of his exploits & conquests were written down and told continuously from the time of Alexander until the 2nd Century CE; moreover, because there was such familiarity with the story, with the facts, Arrian would not have been able to deviate much from these facts. It would be like an American historian saying that the Pilgrims landed in what is now Florida, where they opened a resort. Everyone knows that’s simply wrong.
Even so, the gap between Alexander and Arrian is pushing half a millennium. That takes us back to the 17th Century. Funny thing, we can actually know more about the life of someone like Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) than Luke would have known with firm basis about Jesus. Why? Because Richelieu left records and things were written by him and about him while he was alive. This is not true about Jesus. People did not start writing things down about him until twenty years after his death. This is because Richelieu was recognised as someone important, and that we should remember what he did even while he was alive. Plato, writing about Socrates, was writing about someone he had known personally; odd thing about that is one has to question how much Plato distorted Socrates’ teachings to fit his own agenda.
In contrast, people did not start writing about Jesus until twenty years after he died. He was an obscure figure, and there was no conventional wisdom about him, about what happened to him, or what he did during his life. As such, twenty years is plenty of time for misconceptions and outright fabrications to take hold. To hear Reagan discussed by certain conservative popularists is to hear about a president who never existed, and this has occurred in a world with so much information it’s– literally– mind-boggling. And twenty years takes us to Paul; it’s another twenty before we get to Mark and something vaguely resembling a biography. The point of all this that we really need to be suspicious about anything we are told that Jesus said or did that occurs in the so-called Q material. We need to be suspicious of all of it.
OTOH, the aphorism about salt is one of the things that Jesus may actually have said. It’s in Mark, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense in any context that we’ve encountered. Here, it feels like it’s been attached with tape. It’s not so much as an afterthought as the evangelist throwing up his hands, not knowing where it belongs, so he just sort of stuck it here for want of a better place. The Q Reader does include this as part of Q, as well it should; the interesting thing is that it’s exactly the disjointed nature of so much of what Jesus is reported to have said that is the best argument for something like Q. If Jesus was considered a wise man by the ancients, it’s exactly these pithy little aphorisms that would have been passed down. Of the famous Seven Sages of Greek thought, all we know about them consists of the adages they are reputed to have uttered. So perhaps. This should probably be pursued more in the summary to the chapter.
29 Ne, posteaquam posuerit fundamentum et non potuerit perficere, omnes, qui vident, incipiant illudere ei
30 dicentes: “Hic homo coepit aedificare et non potuit consummare”.
31 Aut quis rex, iturus committere bellum adversus alium regem, non sedens prius cogitat, si possit cum decem milibus occurrere ei, qui cum viginti milibus venit ad se?
32 Alioquin, adhuc illo longe agente, legationem mittens rogat ea, quae pacis sunt.
33 Sic ergo omnis ex vobis, qui non renuntiat omnibus, quae possidet, non potest meus esse discipulus.
34 Bonum est sal; si autem sal quoque evanuerit, in quo condietur?
35 Neque in terram neque in sterquilinium utile est, sed foras proiciunt illud. Qui habet aures audiendi, audiat”.
This is actually still part of the scene that we’ve been examining for the whole chapter. Recall that it started with Jesus eating at the house of some Pharisees, where he created a stir by healing a man with dropsy on the sabbath. The next section continued with that same meal, when we got the admonition to humble oneself to be exalted, which ended with one of the guests saying “blessed are those who eat bread in the kingdom of God. This continues, and Jesus is replying to that man.
16 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἄνθρωπός τις ἐποίει δεῖπνον μέγα, καὶ ἐκάλεσεν πολλούς,
17 καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τὸν δοῦλον αὐτοῦ τῇ ὥρᾳ τοῦ δείπνου εἰπεῖν τοῖς κεκλημένοις, Ἔρχεσθε, ὅτι ἤδη ἕτοιμά ἐστιν.
18 καὶ ἤρξαντο ἀπὸ μιᾶς πάντες παραιτεῖσθαι. ὁ πρῶτος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀγρὸν ἠγόρασα καὶ ἔχω ἀνάγκην ἐξελθὼν ἰδεῖν αὐτόν: ἐρωτῶ σε, ἔχε με παρῃτημένον.
19 καὶ ἕτερος εἶπεν, Ζεύγη βοῶν ἠγόρασα πέντε καὶ πορεύομαι δοκιμάσαι αὐτά: ἐρωτῶ σε, ἔχε με παρῃτημένον.
20 καὶ ἕτερος εἶπεν, Γυναῖκα ἔγημα καὶ διὰ τοῦτο οὐ δύναμαι ἐλθεῖν.
21 καὶ παραγενόμενος ὁ δοῦλος ἀπήγγειλεν τῷ κυρίῳ αὐτοῦ ταῦτα. τότε ὀργισθεὶς ὁ οἰκοδεσπότης εἶπεν τῷ δούλῳ αὐτοῦ, Ἔξελθε ταχέως εἰς τὰς πλατείας καὶ ῥύμας τῆς πόλεως, καὶ τοὺς πτωχοὺς καὶ ἀναπείρους καὶ τυφλοὺς καὶ χωλοὺς εἰσάγαγε ὧδε.
22 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ δοῦλος, Κύριε, γέγονεν ὃ ἐπέταξας, καὶ ἔτι τόπος ἐστίν.
23 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ κύριος πρὸς τὸν δοῦλον, Ἔξελθε εἰς τὰς ὁδοὺς καὶ φραγμοὺς καὶ ἀνάγκασον εἰσελθεῖν, ἵνα γεμισθῇ μου ὁ οἶκος:
24 λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς τῶν ἀνδρῶν ἐκείνων τῶν κεκλημένων γεύσεταί μου τοῦ δείπνου.
He said to him (the man who said those eating in the kingdom are blessed), “A certain man made a great dinner, and he invited many, (17) and he sent his slave at the hour of the dinner to tell those invited, ‘Come, indeed it is ready’. (18) And they all began from the first one to excuse themselves. The first said to him (the slave), ‘I have purchased a field and I have to go see it. I say to you have me excused’. (19) And another said, ‘Five yokes of oxen I have bought, and I go to examine them. I say to you have me excused’. (20) And another said, ‘I have married a woman and because of this I am not able to come’. (21) And becoming next to (= returning), the slave announced to his lord these things. Then waxing wroth the lord of the manor said to his slave, ‘Go quickly to the streets and streets/alleys of the city, and the poor and the maimed and the blind and the lame lead here’. (23) And the slave said, ‘Lord, the preparations are become and yet is a place’. (24) And the lord said to the slave, ‘Go to the roads and the fences and compel to come, so that my house be filled. (25) I say to you that no one of those men invited shall taste my dinner’.”
A couple of points about the Greek, most of which occur in the conversation between lord and servant. First, the lord is called ‘kyrios’, ‘lord’, which would be familiar to anyone who has experienced the Catholic and even Anglican mass, or has listened to any of the masses written by Classical composers. Mozart’s Requiem, or Bach’s B Minor Mass come immediately to my mind. The opening prayer is ‘Kyrie eleison’, ‘Lord have Mercy’. I have seen this referred to as the Trisagion in the Book of Common Prayer, since it is repeated three times, interchanged with “Christ have mercy”, and ending with “Lord have mercy” again. This is the only bit of Greek that one finds in the traditional Latin mass, and I have no explanation for why it was retained. But, back to the point, the lord is referred to as ‘kyrios’, except once he becomes the ‘oikodespotes’, literally the ‘despot of the home’. I rendered this as ‘lord of the manor’. Not an exact fit, but it gives the sense that we’re using a different term.
The man who has bought oxen says he has purchased five yokes of oxen. A yoke is a pair, because two oxen would be joined by a yoke, so the piece of equipment became synonymous with ‘pair’.
Then the servant ‘becomes around’. This is a literal translation of the Greek. It is a compound word, made up of ‘becoming’, which is used in place of the standard ‘to be’; and ‘para’, which means ‘next to’. There is a similar thing with ‘the preparations are become’; the preparations have been made, which is to say they have come into existence.
“Waxing wroth” is me being pretentious with a deliberate archaism. My apologies, but the old language carries an impact. Then he tells the slave to go into the “streets and streets”; to the second, I added “alleyways”. The first word really means something like ‘wide places’, which is a description of a street.
The slave says that he’s brought all the people from the first group, and there is still a place. This is a very (overly) literal translation. It essentially means that places at the table are still available, but the word in Greek is singular. In English, we would use the singular to say there is still ‘space’ or ‘room’. That is how this generally gets rendered. However, part of my intent is that this be an aid to beginning students of Greek. I know how confusing it often was (is) when trying to make the expression work, first as Greek, then as English.
Finally, to carry out the master’s final injunction, the slave goes to the ‘roads and fences’. The first word is clear enough; as opposed to the streets of a town, it refers to the roads between towns. Hence, the fences; walls would also fit, but it is not the standard word used for a city wall. Despite this, it gets translated as ‘hedges’. Here is another instance where translators of the Reformation simply ignored their professed intent; this includes the KJV. Rather than make reference to the original, they stuck with the Latin translation of the Vulgate, which is saepes. This includes the idea of a hedge, where the Greek word does not truly do so. It gets appended as a definition peculiar to the NT, but it’s not really an understanding that occurs elsewhere in standard Greek, meaning Greek written by pagans. Hence we find, once again, that NT Greek is very much an artificial construction. I truly wonder what Luke actually meant when he wrote the word. Of course, a hedge can refer to a boundary marker between properties; this is common in many parts of Europe. So conflating fence and hedge does make sense. And one possible interpretation is that people that we would now call homeless would sort of camp inside a hedge, using it for protection. And this is possible; during the Normandy invasion, tanks sometimes had trouble breaking through the very old hedgerows of France. I tend to suspect hedges were not common in biblical Judea; so I wonder where Luke was writing this, and how Jerome got the idea that the evangelist meant ‘hedges’.
To the story. First and foremost, this is about the supersession of the Jews by pagans. As we have noted many times, by the late First Century the vast majority of those joining the Christian group were pagans, and stories like this one were created to explain that phenomenon. And it had to be explained. Since the Jews were the Chosen People, and Jesus was the Messiah promised to the Jews all those centuries ago, why were Jews so grossly underrepresented in the ranks of the new Christian sect? And of course one huge implication here is that this story does not date back to Jesus, despite the fact that the Q people insist that this story was part of Q because– and only because– it’s in both Matthew and Luke. They do not stop to analyze what the words say, or what they imply. They do not stop to ask whether this story makes sense coming out of Jesus’ mouth. It doesn’t. This story, and that of the Centurion and several others are all about the Jews being superseded by pagans, and this did not happen in the time of Jesus; rather, it occurred several decades after Jesus. There is real question about how much Jesus interacted with pagans, or whether he considered them at all. The answer would depend on how “religious” Jesus’ message was. Now, on the surface, that might sound ridiculous, but if Jesus was a wonder-worker like Mark says, then the religious aspect of the ministry may have been much less than generally thought. That would explain Matthew: he wrote after the Christ side of the story had become predominant, together with the sacrifice that is at the heart of the Passion story (despite the fact that neither the sacrifice nor the ransom theory of the crucifixion are internally consistent) led to the Sermon on the Mount and all the rest of the material that shows up in Matthew for the first time.
A couple of final things. The slave is to compel people to come. Really? How does that work? We’re going to compel people to come into the Kingdom of God, or into the Life? That is truly an odd thought. The other thing is that this version lacks Matthew’s ending where guest, presumably one dragged in from under a hedge got kicked out into the outer darkness because he wasn’t properly attired. No shoes, no shirt, no service. That part always struck me as bizarre, and I said as much when we discussed this story in Matthew. So here is another instance where Luke “cleans up” or “corrects” something that is amiss with Matthew. Of course the Q people will admit no such thing, so perhaps we’ll just leave it at that. Do take note, however, that the number of such instances is accumulating. Seriously; I have a book in here.
16 At ipse dixit ei: “Homo quidam fecit cenam magnam et vocavit multos;
17 et misit servum suum hora cenae dicere invitatis: “Venite, quia iam paratum est”.
18 Et coeperunt simul omnes excusare. Primus dixit ei: “Villam emi et necesse habeo exire et videre illam; rogo te, habe me excusatum”.
19 Et alter dixit: “Iuga boum emi quinque et eo probare illa; rogo te, habe me excusatum”.
20 Et alius dixit: “Uxorem duxi et ideo non possum venire”.
21 Et reversus servus nuntiavit haec domino suo. Tunc iratus pater familias dixit servo suo: “Exi cito in plateas et vicos civitatis et pauperes ac debiles et caecos et claudos introduc huc”.
22 Et ait servus: “Domine, factum est, ut imperasti, et adhuc locus est”.
23 Et ait dominus servo: “Exi in vias et saepes, et compelle intrare, ut impleatur domus mea.
24 Dico autem vobis, quod nemo virorum illorum, qui vocati sunt, gustabit cenam meam’.”
The break between the last piece and this is not entirely sharp. In Verses 1-6, Jesus was at dinner with some Pharisees. There was some contention about whether it was lawful to heal on the sabbath. Presumably the “those” in Verse 7 still refers to the group that is gathered at the table—or the group reclining on couches, as was the standard means of eating in much of the ancient Mediterranean. This was true to the point that “reclining” was more or less a synonym for “eating a dinner”. Hence we come to the term translated “first couches”. The word is compound, the second part being a place to lie down; hence, a place to recline, or a couch.
7 Ἔλεγεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς κεκλημένους παραβολήν, ἐπέχων πῶς τὰς πρωτοκλισίας ἐξελέγοντο, λέγων πρὸς αὐτούς,
8 Οταν κληθῇς ὑπό τινος εἰς γάμους, μὴ κατακλιθῇς εἰς τὴν πρωτοκλισίαν, μή ποτε ἐν τιμότερός σου ᾖ κεκλημένος ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ,
9 καὶ ἐλθὼν ὁ σὲ καὶ αὐτὸν καλέσας ἐρεῖ σοι, Δὸς τούτῳ τόπον, καὶ τότε ἄρξῃ μετὰ αἰσχύνης τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον κατέχειν.
10 ἀλλ’ ὅταν κληθῇς πορευθεὶς ἀνάπεσε εἰς τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον, ἵνα ὅταν ἔλθῃ ὁ κεκληκώς σε ἐρεῖ σοι, Φίλε, προσανάβηθι ἀνώτερον: τότε ἔσται σοι δόξα ἐνώπιον πάντων τῶν συνανακειμένων σοι.
He said to those who had been called (= invited) a parable, having beheld how they chose the first couches, speaking to them, (8) “When having been called ( = invited) by someone to a wedding, do not recline yourself on the first couches, lest, someone in higher honor ( = social rank) having been invited, (9) and coming the one who invited you and the other says to you, ‘Give (up) this place’, and then you may begin with shame the last place to have. (10) But when invited, go to and fall into the lowest place, so that when the inviter may come (and) will say to you, ‘Friend, march up towards a higher (place)’. Then there will be glory to you in front of all of those having been invited together with you.
Let’s pause for some Greek. First, this is a fairly complex bit of writing, that takes some real gymnastics to put into decent English. This borders on Classical Greek, and is another demonstration that Luke (as in, the author of –) was rather well educated. The other thing is the word for going up to the higher table is ‘prosanabethi’, containing the word ‘anabasis’. This is the title of a famous work of Xenophon, who was a Greek mercenary, fighting for one of the claimants to the Persian throne. The claimant was killed, so there were 10,000 (or so) Greek soldiers at loose ends in the middle of Asia Minor. This was a difficult situation, so they had to “march up country” to the south shore of the Black Sea. The title thus is “Anabasis”, which I’ve seen rendered as “The March Upcountry” and the “March of the Ten Thousand”. I point this out to demonstrate how multi-purposed a lot of Greek words are. This can make translation difficult, since the same word can be rendered to mean a number of different things. My particular bête noir in this is “logos”. The opening of John is “in the beginning was the Logos’; which got translated into Latin as “Verbum” which is more or less “Word”. This translation, while correct, is unfortunate, because the Greek word ‘logos’ has so many other meanings not included in the English ‘word’. It is, after all, the -ology ending of the-ology, or psych-ology, or soci-ology. “Word” doesn’t come close to covering that. Finally, the word rendered as “glory” is a bit overstated here. It is the word that is used for “glory”, as in “glory to God…” I gave it the elevated translation to make the same point. Feel free to substitute your own modified synonym. The KJV gives this as ‘worship’; the NASB, NIV, and ESV all use ‘honor’. The problem with that Greek has a separate word for ‘honor’. It was used in Verse 8.
7 Dicebat autem ad invitatos parabolam, intendens quomodo primos accubitus eligerent, dicens ad illos:
8 “Cum invitatus fueris ab aliquo ad nuptias, non discumbas in primo loco, ne forte honoratior te sit invitatus ab eo,
9 et veniens is qui te et illum vocavit, dicat tibi: “Da huic locum”; et tunc incipias cum rubore novissimum locum tenere.
10 Sed cum vocatus fueris, vade, recumbe in novissimo loco, ut, cum venerit qui te invitavit, dicat tibi: “Amice, ascende superius”; tunc erit tibi gloria coram omnibus simul discumbentibus.
11 ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὑψῶν ἑαυτὸν τα πεινωθήσεται καὶ ὁ ταπεινῶν ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται.
12 Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ τῷ κεκληκότι αὐτόν, Οταν ποιῇς ἄριστον ἢ δεῖπνον, μὴ φώνει τοὺς φίλους σου μηδὲ τοὺς ἀδελφούς σου μηδὲ τοὺς συγγενεῖς σου μηδὲ γείτονας πλουσίους, μήποτε καὶ αὐτοὶ ἀντικαλέσωσίν σε καὶ γένηται ἀνταπόδομά σοι.
13 ἀλλ’ ὅταν δοχὴν ποιῇς, κάλει πτωχούς, ἀναπείρους, χωλούς, τυφλούς:
14 καὶ μακάριος ἔσῃ, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἀνταποδοῦναί σοι, ἀνταποδοθήσεται γάρ σοι ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τῶν δικαίων.
15 Ἀκούσας δέ τις τῶν συνανακειμένων ταῦτα εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Μακάριος ὅστις φάγεται ἄρτον ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ.
“That all of those raising themselves will be humbled, and the one humbling him/herself will be raised”. (12) And he said to the one inviting him, “When you make the best meal, do not call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, and never those having invited you and having become inviters of you. (13) Rather, when you make a reception, call the poor, the the crippled, the lame, the blind. (14) And you will be blessed, that they do not have (i.e. have the means) to return to you, for you will be repaid in the resurrection of the just”. (15) Hearing, someone of those reclining with (him = Jesus) said these things to him (Jesus), “Blessed is the one who eats bread in the kingdom of God.”
Here we get a tying-together of several strands of what we think of as basic Christian belief. We get the humble/exalted contrast which was made in Mark and Matthew, and this is yoked together with the resurrection of the just and the kingdom of God. No doubt we’ve covered this before, but the idea of humility is very non-pagan. I cannot speak with authority on whether this was considered a positive attribute, or the degree to which it was considered positive, in Judaism to this point; however, given the consistent message of social justice that pervades Judaism, I would suspect this is not entirely novel with Jesus. There may–emphasis on may— be a difference in degree, but this may be very standard in Jewish thought and teaching. I suspect I may be guilty of Christian-centric thinking to suggest there is much of a change. If there is one thing I’ve learned through this exercise, it’s that there wasn’t a drastic change in the message of social justice between Judaism and Jesus. Thus the admonition to invite the poor, the blind, and the physically challenged is not something new or unique to Jesus’ message. Given that, it’s possible to see this as something that may very well trace back to Jesus’ teaching*.
Not only that, I’ve been doing more reading on early Greek thought. One discovery is that the idea of reward–or at least punishment–in the afterlife was not a Christian invention, either. The Greek philosopher Herakleitos believed that shady magicians would be/should be punished in the afterlife. What is intriguing here is the idea of the Resurrection of the Just, and particularly the way it seems to be synonymous with the Kingdom of God. It should be noted that there appears to be a distinction between the former idea and what became Christian orthodoxy. The raising of the “Just” carries the distinct implication that only the good people will rise on the last day. There have been allusions to this idea before, but I did not make a sufficiently careful record of when they occurred, and by whom they were voiced. My apologies. But here, using this term, this possible differentiation is more clear than it has been previously, clear enough even to get through to me. However, while this differentiation is possible, or possibly inclined, it is still not stated explicitly. If the Just are to be raised up, what happens to the bad people? Do they remain mouldering in the grave? How does that square with the parable of the (presumably poor) wedding guest who got thrown into the outer darkness, where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth because he was improperly dressed? This latter, I think, can safely be taken as a metaphor for ‘having lived a blameful life’. There another reference to a fiery Gehenna. What does that mean, and how does it square with the “Resurrection of the Just”?
That was the chore facing the early church. In order to create a set of beliefs that would be considered “orthodox”, it was necessary to reconcile such seemingly contradictory statements. If they could not be reconciled, they had to be papered over, or reinterpreted. I think that the Resurrection of the Just is the belief of the Pharisees, who said that there would be a resurrection of the body. This, as opposed to the Sadducees, who said there would be no resurrection. And that is where the kingdom of God comes in: what Luke is implying here is that the Kingdom will come when the just are raised bodily, and the reign of God will be eternal (although that is not stated here), and that what we think of as Heaven is actually a physical existence. In Christian orthodoxy, Heaven has become a place of disembodied spirits, which idea is very, very Greek. So where does a resurrected body come in? Or, is “resurrection” metaphorical, to mean that the Just will be raised, but only in spirit? Here is where it’s important to grasp the idea that the evangelists were story-tellers, myth-makers; they were decidedly not theologians. That term is wholly anachronistic for writers of the NT, and perhaps in general. The term is not a Greek concept; for them, the term philosophy covered it all, from natural science to the One of Plato which served as the basis for the Christian God of the Middle Ages. Theology was coined by the Christians, in order to distinguish it from secular philosophy. So the early thinkers who created The Church had to invent the term and then identify and define all its concepts, then decide which were, and which were not to be considered “orthodox”, literally “straight belief”. We need constantly to bear in mind that the doctrine (from the ‘dox’ root, which also spawned ‘dogma’) of the Trinity did not exist until well into the Second, or even the Third Century. That is, two- or three hundred years after Luke and even John. This is why I’m insistent about using “sacred breath” for “spiritus sanctus”; the term ‘holy spirit’ has too much accrued baggage, and Holy Spirit is just grossly anachronistic for the NT. I won’t go into the reasons why it was necessary to reify the sacred breath as the Holy Spirit because I really don’t remember them. Jaroslav Pelikan has a great discussion on this in Volume 1 of his The Christian Tradition series.
Back to the point, it is worth noting that what Luke is describing is not necessarily consistent what we have come to believe as the standard idea of the Christian afterlife. This sort of free-for-all in ideas is exactly why a group of Christian elders came together and decided it was time to define orthodox belief. But it is important to know that much of Christian belief came about, not through considered contemplation and study, but in the heat of controversy. Perhaps the first real spur to this came from Valentinus in the 30s of the Second Century. He was a Gnostic (to use terms very loosely), and he gathered a following large enough to make the non-gnostics feel threatened. So the latter banded together, and came up with reasons why gnosticism was not consistent with ‘true belief’ (since even the term ‘orthodox’ is still not quite appropriate).
In short, what Christians believe was not settled in NT times. As such, there are moments in the NT–like this one–where what we read is not consistent with what we are taught to believe now. Of course, this was the theological basis of the Reformation; but the Reformation was not “wholly, nor even primarily, a religious event”.
* But watch this space. I’m toying with a new theory about who Jesus was, and how he was seen by contemporaries. It’s too soon to broach the topic, but one of the implications would be that this message of social inclusion may actually, in fact, trace to James the Just, brother of Jesus, rather than to Jesus himself. Deciding that will depend on a much deeper understanding of the message of Paul.
11 Quia omnis, qui se exaltat, humiliabitur; et, qui se humiliat, exaltabitur”.
12 Dicebat autem et ei, qui se invitaverat: “Cum facis prandium aut cenam, noli vocare amicos tuos neque fratres tuos neque cognatos neque vicinos divites, ne forte et ipsi te reinvitent, et fiat tibi retributio.
13 Sed cum facis convivium, voca pauperes, debiles, claudos, caecos;
14 et beatus eris, quia non habent retribuere tibi. Retribuetur enim tibi in resurrectione iustorum”.
15 Haec cum audisset quidam de simul discumbentibus, dixit illi: “Beatus, qui manducabit panem in regno Dei”.
These updates have been growing fewer and further between over the last several months. I will try to get back on track. This is a really short piece, and the next will only be slightly longer. Perhaps this will put me back on schedule.
1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν εἰς οἶκόν τινος τῶν ἀρχόντων [τῶν] Φαρισαίων σαββάτῳ φαγεῖν ἄρτον καὶ αὐτοὶ ἦσαν παρατηρούμενοι αὐτόν. 2 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπός τις ἦν ὑδρωπικὸς ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ. 3 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς τοὺς νομικοὺς καὶ Φαρισαίους λέγων, Ἔξεστιν τῷ σαββάτῳ θεραπεῦσαι ἢ οὔ; 4 οἱ δὲ ἡσύχασαν. καὶ ἐπιλαβόμενος ἰάσατο αὐτὸν καὶ ἀπέλυσεν. 5 καὶ πρὸς αὐτοὺς εἶπεν, Τίνος ὑμῶν υἱὸς ἢ βοῦς εἰς φρέαρ πεσεῖται, καὶ οὐκ εὐθέως ἀνασπάσει αὐτὸν ἐν ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ σαββάτου; 6 καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσαν ἀνταποκριθῆναι πρὸς ταῦτα.
And it happened in him coming to the house of a certain ruler of the Pharisees, on the sabbath to eat bread and they were watching him closely. (2) And, behold, a certain man who was a dropsy (sufferer) approached him. (3) And Jesus asked towards the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it allowable on the sabbath to heal or not?” (4) And they were silent. And taking him (the man) he (Jesus) healed him and he went away. (5) And towards them he said, “Who of you, a child or a cow will fall into a well, and not immediately raise him up on the day of the sabbath?” (6) And they did not have the power to respond to him.
This is another of those “lift and load” modules that constitute much of what the evangelists tell us about Jesus. Each gospel contains dozens of these little modules. I’m not sure how much this is discussed, but what it indicates is that there were bunches of these single episodes floating around that the evangelists collected. Or, in some cases, they probably created their own. This story is more or less in both the other two gospels, but neither of them are quite like this. It’s the theme that matters, IMO, not the actual wording, Too much time is spent counting “kai vs de” instances and using this as the basis to determine how much one gospel owes to a predecessor. This is nonsense. Matthew and Luke were both accomplished writers, and in neither case was the intent to repeat what had gone before. Instead, the intent was to put the story in a new way, to reinterpret, or even add something to it.
Here’s the problem. Christians have The Bible, literally The Book. We have become accustomed to there being one, single, and absolutely authoritative document that has All The Answers. This is not how myth works. Many people who get past the most basic retellings of Greek myth are a little bewildered when they find out that different authors tell the stories a bit differently. There is no real, single creation myth, for example. It changed, evolved. The idea of there being chaos (or Chaos) at the beginning didn’t come into existence until something like the time of Hesiod. And really, it has been pointed out that Genesis is actually two separate stories mashed together. This is how myth works.
Myth is not a single story set in stone, unchanging and unchangeable. Myth is a process. The analogy continues to be the Arthur legend. As it became increasingly popular, it grew in scope. New heroes were added as it sort of amalgamated tales that originally were of more local provenance. Gawaine would probably be a good example. So the cast of characters grew to include Guinevere, and Uther Pendragon, and Launcelot. Then in the 13th century Wolfram von Eschenbach added the stand-alone work Parzival, which was written in (what would later be part of ) Germany in High German, and that character was incorporated and Percival was part of the cast collected by Thomas Mallory. This is what the evangelists were doing: they were adding and reinterpreting, and doing it consciously.
Unfortunately, having The One True Book has led to a mindset that there was One True Story that all of the evangelists were trying to tell. This is where lots of clumsy circumlocutions and Rube Goldberg-type connexions between the gospels are created in a vain attempt to synthesize them into a single, unitary story. The result is that the different tellings of stories, or the way themes are handled differently are compared under an electron microscope and ever-so-slight differences in grammar are considered to be major variations that prove–mostly disprove–the dependence of one text on another. Usually, small cracks are touted to demonstrate the impossibility that Luke knew and used Matthew. Such analysis while fine on its own terms, is misguided, or perhaps distractive. It misses, I think, the forest because the individual trees are different, and even two pine trees have minor discrepancies in their appearance.
So this story falls under the rubric of “Jesus vs. the established religion”. This theme is perhaps the most common in the gospels providing story after story to “prove” that Jesus was executed because the establishment felt threatened and/or jealous by/of Jesus. This, of course, is the orthodox understanding and explanation, one that has been pushed for 2,000+ years and one that is rarely, if ever, questioned. There are different interpretations of how Jesus saw himself and how he was seen by contemporaries, from the Cynic Sage of Burton Mack to the Zealot of Reza Aslan. The one thing these interpretations have in common is that they see Jesus at the head of some sort of a group which posed this threat. I am currently reading a book Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, a multi-volume work covering a span of several thousand years. The volume I’m reading covers the Classical World, which means Jesus comes into its purview. The section I’ve just read treats Jesus as one of many public magicians, on the order of Apollonius of Tyana. Magic was a capital offense under Roman law, so it would provide a sufficient charge to warrant Jesus’ execution. I find this very compelling; in fact, I’m writing a special topic essay to present my argument in more detail. Other than that, there isn’t much that’s novel about this particular section. So we’ll just move on.
1 Et factum est, cum intraret in domum cuiusdam princi pis pharisaeorum sabbato manducare panem, et ipsi observabant eum. 2 Et ecce homo quidam hydropicus erat ante illum. 3 Et respondens Iesus dixit ad legis peritos et pharisaeos dicens: “ Licet sabbato curare an non? ”. 4 At illi tacuerunt. Ipse vero apprehensum sanavit eum ac dimisit. 5 Et ad illos dixit: “ Cuius vestrum filius aut bos in puteum cadet, et non continuo extrahet illum die sabbati? ”. 6 Et non poterant ad haec respondere illi.
Having reviewed the commentary on this chapter, one theme proved consistent. This was the additions vs. the subtractions of Mark’s material made by Matthew. There were three major stories here; or, two, with the second divided into two parts. These are 1) the death of the Baptist; 2) the feeding of the 5,000; 3) Jesus walking on the water. The last two are, at least sometimes, considered to be a unit in the sense that the third is always attached to the end of the second. This is a significant theme because it gets to the heart of a triad of relevant issues. 1) Did Matthew use Mark, in the sense of having a copy of Mark in front of him?; 2) how did Matthew abridge or lengthen the story?; 3) what do the additions/subtractions tell us about the development of the story of Jesus? A corollary to these would be the issue of sources. Can the changes Matthew made tell us anything about potential sources?
The first question is still a question may itself be a question. There is, for example, the Griesbach hypothesis which that Matthew wrote first, and that Mark sort of wrote an abridgment of Matthew. This overlaps largely, but is not syonymous with, the Two-Gospel Theory. I do not know how seriously this is actually taken any more, at least by scholars; however, a cursory Google search showed that this belief is not uncommon, especially among ministries of various sorts. Their reasoning is very similar to that of the not-so-early Church Fathers who put Matthew first. Assuming Mark’s priority means that it is possible to argue that many of the additions to Mark made by Matthew may be “later embellishments” (as per Wikipedia). And, in fact, I have argued, and will continue to argue exactly that. As I see this, simply reading the two in succession is proof enough of Mark’s priority. This becomes even more clear if one reads through the lens of historical inquiry (that is actually redundant) and/or with an understanding of how legends are created. There is sufficient literature available on-line that one can pursue this at leisure.
The second question is really the heart of this entry. And, when we step back to look at the whole, the answer is actually quite clear. Matthew deletes what are, essentially, extraneous details. These would include the name of Salome, or the disciples straining against the oars. He adds pieces that further emphasize his point about who Jesus is, or that underscore Jesus’ power. An example of this would include the setting of Jesus in the lonely place, which stresses that there were no resources available to Jesus to assist in the feeding of this large group, that it was his power alone that managed this feat. Another would be the declaration of the disciples that Jesus is truly the son/Son of God. Taking this even further is the addition of Peter walking–or trying to–on the water. This aspect of the story is unique to Matthew. And really, despite the perplexity I expressed at the outset of my last post on the chapter about why Matthew dropped some details largely answered itself.
More, the answer to the third question was pretty much answered in the paragraph above. The changes that Matthew made were done to create a stronger picture of who Jesus was, and that Jesus was rather–or largely–different from the way presented in Mark. Jesus becomes more elevated, more–in a word–divine. He is less, much less, human than he was in Mark. Matthew’s Jesus does not get angry. He does not complain that he is surrounded by dullards who just don’t get It. And even the disciples themselves have changed in this last regard. When he asked if they understood the parables in Chapter 13, they did. This is reflected by the fact that we’re half-way through Matthew (based on number of chapters) and Jesus hasn’t become cross with them even once. The people, IOW, are less people and moving toward an ideal. Even Peter instinctively has faith: he jumped out of the boat, believing. That his faith faltered, well, that is human. But it falters in a way that does credit to Jesus, rather than discrediting him as the lack of faith in his hometown did in Mark 6. Actually, I just realized that Jesus has become cross, exactly once. It’s when he admonishes Peter as one of little faith. This term, or the idea behind the term, was used frequently by Mark to express Jesus’ exasperation. Since Jesus doesn’t get exasperated often, the term has not appeared frequently in Matthew.
This leaves the story of the death of the Baptist. As mentioned, Josephus corroborates that Herod had John executed to some degree because John spoke out about Herod marrying the widow of his brother. The rest, which mainly involves the dance 0f (s0me unnamed daughter of Herodias per Matthew’s account) is found only in the NT. I have read chunks of Josephus, but hardly the entire thing. I have noticed that Josephus is a bit…gossipy, at times. He has an affinity for lurid details; but then, even supposedly “sober” historians like Tacitus like to report salacious tales and details, all in the pursuit of telling it like it was, of course. My judgement is that, if Josephus had been aware of the story of Salome, he probably would have included it as too juicy to omit. But that is my judgement; it is based on little more than my overall knowledge of historical technique of the time. (And note that Tacitus was writing about 20 years after Josephus, according to the general consensus dating of both authors.)
So the lack of the dance of Salome indicates one of two things. Either Josephus knew of the story in Matthew and chose not to use it, or that Josephus did not know the NT story. The latter seems more likely. At the end of the First Century, there is reason to believe that the burgeoning collection of NT literature wasn’t all that familiar even to Christians, let alone outsiders. Then, by extension, the story of the dance of Salome, and the role it played in the death of the Baptist was probably not known outside of Christian circles. That is, it’s likely that this part of the story was concocted by Christians to put Herod in a bad light. Nothing really surprising there. After all, Matthew invented the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents, which certainly put the other Herod, aka Herod the Great, in a bad light. Like father, like son. The omission of Salome’s dance is all the more striking because Josephus specifically names her as the daughter of Herodias, and niece to Herod the Executor because she was the child of the Executor’s brother.
There are several other glaring differences between the two accounts. One is that Josephus does not describe John as a hermit-figure, dressed in camel skin and living in the desert. That only shows up in the NT version. Now, there is a passage in which Josephus describes how he lived among the Essenes, but nowhere does Josephus even allude to, let alone actively posit, a relationship between John and the Essenes. This relationship has all-but been taken for granted by Christians, and NT scholars–a large portion of whom are present or former Christian ministers, or students of the NT from a background of a believer in the message of the NT. But this connection is based solely on the evidence of the NT, and this is not quite all the evidence we have. We also have Josephus, who tells something of a different story.
Josephus also omits the assertion of the NT that Herod was afraid to kill John because he feared the reaction of the people. Instead, Josephus tells us Herod was afraid of the reaction of the people if he didn’t kill John. This is basically a flat-out contradiction of what the NT tells us. Which is more credible? The bottom line is that there is no real evidence to help us decide one way or the other. Then the question becomes, while we have to choose which is more credible, is there reason to suspect that one party had incentive to be inventive? As for Josephus, by the time we was writing, the Jewish War was thirty years gone, but he was living on an imperial pension. As such, we would suspect his motivation to be to downplay certain events that would not sit well with Rome. On the face, the possibility of John fomenting rebellion would not play well in imperial circles. BUT–Herod’s swift action to stop any rebellion might play well. So Herod has incentive to play John up, or play John down as a potential rebel.
What about the followers of Jesus? What is their motivation? To answer this question, I think we need to bear in mind that the followers of Jesus, dating back to the time of Mark, if not before, had invented the story of Salome’s dance, As such, the credibility of the NT writers is suspect. They also had reason, especially when Mark wrote, to dissociate from any potential seditious elements. Would there be a benefit to them to paint John as a revolutionary? None that I can think of after due consideration. So we have the followers of Jesus, who wished to identify themselves with John, with a pretty strong incentive to squash John the Rebel. Since Josephus could have a reason to either way, and he chooses to portray John thus, the weight of evidence comes down–albeit slightly–on the side of Josephus’ account being more accurate. A caveat should be added, however. Josephus indicates that Herod feared John might do this intentionally, but it is possible that the uprising may have only been inspired by John, who stirred up religious feeling among the Jews to the point that others with more overtly political motives might have turned it–contrary to John’s intent–into a political movement. The division between religion and politics was not all that well demarcated in Jewish tradition.
More, the followers of Jesus had another reason to invent their version. By adding the reluctance of Jewish authorities–here, a secular authority–to kill the Baptist, this episode becomes a foreshadow of the story that they would tell about the attitude of the religious authorities towards Jesus: they were afraid of how the people would react to an execution. And yet, in both cases, John and Jesus were executed, and there were no real repercussions. So, in my judgement, the (proto-) Christian tradition had more reason to suppress a potential rebellion by John more than Josephus had reason to invent it. But this is a judgement, and nothing more. But take it a step further, and think about all of this in context. It seems plausible that Mark inherited several set-piece stories from the tradition. My favourite, of course, is that of the Gerasene demonaic. The death of the Baptist is another. The tandem of the bleeding woman/daughter of Jairus is a third. Another is the story of Jesus returning to his home town. The biggest, of course, is the Passion story. Mark inherited these, but that’s not to say he didn’t adapt them. Mark wrote at a delicate time in Roman-Jewish/Christian relations. He had reason to soft-pedal Roman involvement in the death of Jesus. One way to do that was to downplay any possible seditious motives among Jesus followers. It would also help to downplay them among John’s followers, since there was a perceived overlap of these two groups. Since the motivations of the religious authorities in Jerusalem, and the death of the Baptist have both come to us through the lens of Mark, we need to ask if there weren’t some conscious shaping of the two stories by that author. By the time we get to Matthew, much of Mark’s motivation may have dissipated, but the stories were left behind, and these stories became canonical.
This, technically, is part of the Feeding 5,000 story. If you’ll recall, when last we saw our heroes, Jesus was alone on the mountain, and the disciples were heading off in the boat.
24 τὸ δὲ πλοῖον ἤδη σταδίους πολλοὺς ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ἀπεῖχεν, βασανιζόμενον ὑπὸ τῶν κυμάτων, ἦν γὰρ ἐναντίος ὁ ἄνεμος.
25 τετάρτῃ δὲ φυλακῇ τῆς νυκτὸς ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς περιπατῶν ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν.
And the boat had moved many stadia from land, it was tested by the waves, for there was a contrary wind. (25) In the fourth watch of the night he came to them walking upon the sea.
First, a “stadion” was the length of a “stadium”. The latter is the Latinized form of the former. A stadion was about 200 yards long, a bit shorter than a furlong. This was considered the premiere event of the Olympic games; well, this and the four-horse chariot race. Years were often designated as the one in which Pentathelos won the stadion, or Hippodromos won the four-horse chariot. So “many stadia” is an indeterminate length. Now, the question is “how wide is the Sea of Galilee?” Well, in verse 34, we’re told that they landed in Genesseret, which is on the western shore. The northeastern part of the shore line looks to be the most empty per a map of the ancient sea. So from there back across to Gennesseret looks to be about 10 km. So the boat could simultaneously be many stadia from both shores. Mark, in fact, says it was ‘in the middle of the sea’.
Now, comparing this story to Mark, there are a couple of things to note. First, Matthew makes a liar out of me. After the big rant about adding the detail of dropping Jesus in a desolate place, here Matthew leaves out the detail of the disciples “straining at the oars”, which would be necessary if the wind was against them. There are ways to sail into the wind, but these were not sophisticated boats. Oars were sufficient when the wind was absent or contrary. So why is the detail dropped? I have no good explanation. Perhaps Matthew thought he could tell a better story than Mark. Or perhaps he saw no need to repeat every detail; although adding them was quite appropriate. Why did he drop Salome’s name from the story of the Baptist’s death?
Finally, in Roman times, the night was divided into four watches, each of three hours (although sometimes it’s only three, starting at 9:00 pm, rather than 6:00 pm.) So this was the last watch of the night, somewhere between 3:00 and 6:00 am. Either very late, or very early. Given that they see Jesus at some distance from the boat, closer to 6:00 would make more sense. And it would depend on the season; I’m guessing warmer weather based on the picnic they just had, so the light would come earlier than in the cold months. Interestingly, Mark says that this occurred “when evening had come”, rather than nearer to dawn. These are the sorts of discrepancies that are truly puzzling. The language overlaps between Mark and Matthew, and Matthew and Luke certainly suggest that the later evangelist had an actual written copy of the previous, or both previous evangelists in the case of Luke (the notion of Q notwithstanding). So if they’re using remarkably similar words, why are they mixing up the details? If the wordings weren’t so close, we could easily ascribe it to different oral traditions, in which case difference in detail would be completely understandable. But the wordings are close, so these differences are difficult to explain.
24 Navicula autem iam multis stadiis a terra distabat, fluctibus iactata; erat enim contrarius ventus.
25 Quarta autem vigilia noctis venit ad eos ambulans supra mare.
26 οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης περιπατοῦντα ἐταράχθησαν λέγοντες ὅτι Φάντασμά ἐστιν, καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ φόβου ἔκραξαν.
27 εὐθὺς δὲ ἐλάλησεν [ὁ Ἰησοῦς] αὐτοῖς λέγων, Θαρσεῖτε, ἐγώ εἰμι: μὴ φοβεῖσθε.
The disciples seeing him walking about upon the water were disturbed, saying that “It is a phantasm”, and out of fear they cried out. (27) Immediately he [ Jesus ] spoke to them, saying “Buck up, it is I. Do not fear.”
I would dearly love to know, truly know, what is meant here by “phantasm”. This is a strict transliteration of the Greek word, a simple and straightforward substitution of Latin/English letters for their Greek counterpart. So it’s like dropping the German word “geist” into the middle of an English sentence, untranslated. Most of us would get it, but we may not know all the implications. We would mentally translate it as “ghost” and go about our business. But that’s not to say we would truly understand what the author meant. So it is here, I believe.
Yes, we can parse out the word, but that does not mean we truly understand the concept behind it. For example, I once read a really interesting argument that, to Elizabethan audiences, the ghost of Hamlet’s father would not be understood as a ghost in the sense that we understand ghost, but as an apparition of the devil. What did the Graeco-Roman world understand a ghost to be; or the Jewish world? This is not a simple question. I’ve read enough about magic and the occult as understood in different periods of time to know that the same term can have different emphases, or even meanings, in different times and places. This would be beneficial in this context because it could shed some light on the idea of an afterlife; that is what “ghost” means to us: a post-mortem event. Jesus, however, was not dead yet, so “phantasm” would mean…what, exactly? Sort of an astral projection? Jesus’ disembodied spirit? These are the sorts of questions one asks when one starts to take the mechanics of such “supernatural” occurrences seriously, and try to figure out how something is possible, what it implies. A ghost is the disembodied spirit of someone dead, returning from the afterlife, or never having fully passed to the afterlife. This entails that we have a non-corporeal aspect, and that, while non-corporeal, it can be visible under certain circumstances. But there is also the idea that “supernatural” may only mean we haven’t figured out the natural cause.
Sorry, couldn’t resist “buck up”. But that’s really only a colloquial version of “Take heart!”. Which is a colloquial version of “Have courage!”.
26 Discipuli autem, videntes eum supra mare ambulantem, turbati sunt dicentes: “Phantasma est”, et prae timore clamaverunt.
27 Statimque Iesus locutus est eis dicens: “Habete fiduciam, ego sum; nolite timere!”.
28 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν, Κύριε, εἰ σὺ εἶ, κέλευσόν με ἐλθεῖν πρὸς σὲ ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα:
29 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ἐλθέ. καὶ καταβὰς ἀπὸ τοῦ πλοίου [ὁ] Πέτρος περιεπάτησεν ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα καὶ ἦλθεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν.
Answering him Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you upon the water.” (29) And he (Jesus) said, “Come”. And getting out of the boat, Peter walked about on the water and came towards Jesus.”
This part of the story is only in Matthew. Did Matthew have a source–the so-called ‘M’ material? Or is this the product of Matthew’s own creativity? Hard to say, but my inclination is the latter. Too many–far too many–scholars treat the evangelists as scribes, or compilers, who lack talent as authors. Of course, to admit that the evangelists made up elements, or entire stories, is to admit that they did not come from Jesus. Mark, I think, was probably closest to being a compiler who added very little of his own. Luke and John, were very creative authors. Luke in particular does not get the credit he deserves: The Good Samaritan, The Good Shepherd, The Prodigal Son…the list goes on. Some of the most beloved and widely-recognized stories from the NT come from Luke, and Luke alone.
In the previous section I was close to contradicting myself–or at least appearing to do so–when discussing which stories got lengthened, and which got shortened. Here, I think, we get the answer. Mark’s long stories get shortened; Matthew adds details in specific places. That’s not a contradiction. Matthew added an enormous amount of material, of course, but in different ways. Some was whole cloth, such as the Sermon on the Mount; here, it’s more like a patch, or more like a bit of embroidery. Here’s a theory: dropping things like Salome’s name don’t change the direction of the story. Adding a detail such as Jesus being dropped in an empty stretch of shore doesn’t change the direction, either. It does, however, add emphasis. Adding this piece about Peter leaving the boat does add a new dimension to this story; Jesus not only has the power to defy the laws of nature, but he as the power to give this power to others, This both emphasizes and extends the point. These are the areas where Matthew adds to Mark; overall, they increase the stature of Jesus. That is when Matthew adds to the story, and that is how legends grow, and how the subject becomes increasingly larger-than-life. And some of the omissions serve this purpose too. By omitting that Jesus could do no miracles in his hometown, Matthew eliminates a perceived limit on Jesus’ power. By omitting the bits in Mark 3 that his audience thought that Jesus had taken leave of his senses, and that his family felt compelled to come rescue, Matthew eliminates another perceived limit to Jesus’ stature.
As for shortening the story of the Gerasene demonaic, or omitting Salome’s name, it’s almost as if he figured that Mark told those stories in full, and so another full retelling didn’t add to the record. As such, some of the details could be eliminated and there would be no loss to the tradition. Recently, I saw someone question why Mark survived as a book. Let’s face it: Matthew does re-use almost all of Mark, so the result is that Mark becomes pretty-much redundant. Or worse. Mark includes some unflattering details about Jesus and the disciples, so he’s arguably worse than redundant. I don’t recall if this was addressed, but the corollary or the converse to this question of Mark’s survival is, if Mark survived as an independent work, why didn’t Q? I would suggest that Mark survived because he was seen as the original, the basis for the Jesus story. He was the foundation. As such, perhaps he was held in a degree of reverence, despite the warts he gives to the portrait of Jesus. Given, this, why wouldn’t Q also survive, as the foundation document for Jesus’ teaching, just as Mark was the foundation document of Jesus’ life and ministry? Why didn’t Q survive? The short answer is because it never existed in the first place.
28 Respondens autem ei Petrus dixit: “ Domine, si tu es, iube me venire ad te super aquas ”.
29 At ipse ait: “ Veni! ”. Et descendens Petrus de navicula ambulavit super aquas et venit ad Iesum.
30 βλέπων δὲ τὸν ἄνεμον [ἰσχυρὸν] ἐφοβήθη, καὶ ἀρξάμενος καταποντίζεσθαι ἔκραξεν λέγων, Κύριε, σῶσόν με.
31 εὐθέως δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα ἐπελάβετο αὐτοῦ καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ὀλιγόπιστε, εἰς τί ἐδίστασας;
Seeing the [ strong ] wind, he became afraid, and beginning to plunge into the sea he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me.” (31) And immediately Jesus taking hold of his [ Peter’s ] hand, he lifted him up and said to him, “Ye of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Just and interesting observation: “seeing” the wind. A bit of poetic license there. Of course, what he saw were the effects of the wind, but let’s not get too pedantic here.
More important is Peter’s lack of faith. Of course, Peter only did the human thing: he freaked out. Actually, this is a bit like Wile E. Coyote in the old Roadrunner cartoons. He could run off a cliff and keep going, until the moment he looked down and realized that he was standing on thin air. Only then did he fall. And so it is with Peter. He believed in Jesus, so when Jesus told him to come, Peter jumped over the side and walked on the water. But when he thought about it, believing–or understanding–that people don’t walk on water, he began to sink. Jesus could do it because he was divine. Peter couldn’t, because he wasn’t. Of course, he could because Jesus allowed it, but Peter’s faith–or lack thereof–didn’t allow it.
In a way, this substitutes for the part of Mark 6 where Jesus couldn’t perform any miracles because of the lack of faith. And so Peter demonstrates this here. But the onus is more squarely on Peter; Jesus grants the power, it’s Peter’s fault he failed. The lack of faith is key in both places, but here it’s not Jesus who is limited. So this is another reason to add this part of the story, to demonstrate the need for faith, and to demonstrate what can happen if one’s faith is strong enough.
30 Videns vero ventum validum timuit et, cum coepisset mergi, clamavit dicens: “ Domine, salvum me fac! ”.
31 Continuo autem Iesus extendens manum apprehendit eum et ait illi: “ Modicae fidei, quare dubitasti? ”.
32 καὶ ἀναβάντων αὐτῶν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον ἐκόπασεν ὁ ἄνεμος.
33 οἱ δὲ ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες, Ἀληθῶςθεοῦ υἱὸς εἶ.
And climbing up into the boat, the wind ceased. (33) Those in the boat prostrated themselves before him (Jesus), saying “You are truly the son of God”.
This last declaration of the disciples was also added by Matthew. In Mark, they were simply amazed. So here again we have a new detail that serves to elevate Jesus, to emphasize that this is no mere mortal, to set Jesus apart. I have one problem. What does “son of God”, or “Son of God”, or “son of (a) god” mean? To be blunt, we understand, completely, what the last one means. Why? Because it’s so common in Graeco-Roman myth and culture. All of the great Greek heroes were sons of gods or goddesses. Such a being was not immortal, but was certainly a cut above the rest of humanity, superhuman in some sense of the word.
But what about the other two? We Christians have been dancing around for the past 2,000 years pretending that we understand the term, when I don’t think we do. Not really. What is the prayer that Jesus taught us*? Here’s a hint: it starts “Our father”. Not “Your father”, or “His father”, in reference to Jesus, but first person plural. “Our father”. And did not Paul state that we are all children of God?( Literally, he said “sons”, but that’s an archaic grammatical rule and nothing more.) “Our father”; “children of God”. How are these different from Son of God? These expressions entail that we are all a son/daughter of God. Why is this a special category for Jesus? Greek was written in ALLCAPITALSWITHNOSPACESBETWEENWORDS. As such, we cannot glean any insight from whether Matthew capitalized “Son” or not. And the difference between “son of” and “Son of” is marked, and very important. But it’s a difference that did not exist when Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Paul, & c. wrote.
How did one become a son of God? Perhaps not the same way that one became a son of a god. The latter process was very straightforward, following the rules of human procreation. How do we get to be a son of God? Has that actually been described? Were Adam and Eve the son and daughter of God? No. They were created from the dust of the earth, animated by the divine breath. But wasn’t this the genesis of Jesus? The creature of dust–Mary–was breathed into, so that the divine breath animated a child in her womb. Yes, there is a difference, but is it a distinction that actually makes a difference? So can we truly say that Jesus was the Son of God because the sacred breath conceived him, but Adam was not the Son of God because the sacred breath animated mere dust?
Now that I’m getting started here, I realize that this is not something that can be summed up in the middle of a comment. Regrettably, I must leave the topic for the time being. I will revisit it, at length, I suspect, as a special topic. I haven’t done one of those in a very long while.
* For some reason or another, James P Tabor claims that this was actually handed to Jesus from John the Dunker. I’m not at all sure what his argument for this position might be. In The Jesus Dynasty, he presents this as settled, which indicates to me that this is a thesis he had argued in a previous work that I have not read. Nor will I ever read it, based on the absolutely abysmal understanding of historical process I found in The Jesus Dynasty. Professor Cole in GRH 201–Greek History To The Death Of Alexander–would have failed me if I had handed in an essay so utterly devoid of historical reasoning.
32 Et cum ascendissent in naviculam, cessavit ventus.
33 Qui autem in navicula erant, adoraverunt eum dicentes: “Vere Filius Dei es!”.
34 Καὶ διαπεράσαντες ἦλθον ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν εἰς Γεννησαρέτ.
35 καὶ ἐπιγνόντες αὐτὸν οἱ ἄνδρες τοῦ τόπου ἐκείνου ἀπέστειλαν εἰς ὅλην τὴν περίχωρον ἐκείνην, καὶ προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας,
36 καὶ παρεκάλουν αὐτὸν ἵνα μόνον ἅψωνται τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ: καὶ ὅσοι ἥψαντο διεσώθησαν.
And having crossed, they went upon land to Gennesaret. (35) And the men from that place recognizing him (Jesus) sent to the entire surrounding countryside, and they brought to him all those having maladies. (36) And they beseeched him so that only they may touch the hem of his garment. And howsoever many touched were preserved.
Gennesaret is on the eastern shore of the lake, not terribly far south of Caphernaum. It’s well within credibility that Jesus was known there. This whole story, the landing in Gennesaret, the healings, and the bit about touching the hem of his garment are all in Mark. Once again, the story is shortened somewhat. Matthew, generally, does not dwell on the miracles the way Mark did. This is an interesting distinction to note, since it indicates that Matthew was much less interested in a wonder-worker than he was in the Son/son of God.
34 Et cum transfretassent, venerunt in terram Gennesaret.
35 Et cum cognovissent eum viri loci illius, miserunt in universam regionem illam et obtulerunt ei omnes male habentes,
36 et rogabant eum, ut vel fimbriam vestimenti eius tangerent; et, quicumque tetigerunt, salvi facti sunt.
Now comes the feeding of the 5,000, which is closely followed by Jesus walking on water. This was the text of the gospel in my church on 7/26/15, and according to the sermon, these two are meant as a unity. Apparently, they are put together in all gospels; however, that only necessarily means that Mark arranged them this way, and others followed suit. In any case, rather than one too-long section, I’m going to break them into two too-short sections. Since my “short” sections tend to extend much further than seems possible, perhaps the result will be two sections of a reasonable length.
13 Ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνεχώρησεν ἐκεῖθεν ἐν πλοίῳ εἰς ἔρημον τόπον κατ’ ἰδίαν: καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ ὄχλοι ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ πεζῇ ἀπὸ τῶν πόλεων.
Hearing this (of the death of John) Jesus left that territory in a boat to a deserted place by himself. And hearing the crowd followed hum on foot from the town,
I’m a bit perplexed by this. He left by boat by himself? Are we to take this that he sailed it alone? Or, are we to assume that some of the disciples–the fishermen, for example, sailed it for him? You know, it occurs to me that if Jesus actually sailed the boat by himself, I think this is further indication that maybe he had grown up in Caphernaum. on the sea/lake of Galilee. I suppose the most rational reading of this is that others sailed the boat and dropped him in a deserted place. The word for “deserted” is “eremon”, which is the root of “eremitic”, from which we get “hermit”. So this is a place devoid of people.
And yet, since it was on another point in the lake/sea (I believe “lake” is more appropriate, because the “Sea” of Galilee is fresh water; however, “sea” is too deeply ingrained”), people could follow the progress of the boat visually, and then just go there around the perimeter of the lake. This is actually an interesting bit of narrative. Of course it’s complete fiction; this detail was not in Mark, and I doubt it persisted the additional 10-15 years in a separate tradition. It’s obviously concocted to explain how all those people got to a place that was so isolated from any settlement. Of course, we’re justified to ask if there were actually any empty stretches of shore on the lake at this time. This is fresh water. Water is not exactly abundant in this part of the world. I would have to imagine that this was a significant source of water. As such, there would, seemingly, be a significant impetus to settle on the shore.
We also then have to ask if Matthew’s audience would have known this. Would they simply take Matthew’s word for it because they had no clue? This then brings up the question of who Matthew’s audience was, and where they lived. The traditional view is that this was written in Syria, perhaps Antioch. Since I have no idea on what this is based, it’s difficult to assess the probability of this. As time has gone on, however, I have become increasingly skeptical of anything that is attributed to “tradition”; especially “later tradition”, such as anything dating after Matthew wrote. By that point, by 100, if not 90 CE–or whenever Luke wrote–I suspect that the story has become completely detached from whatever tenuous historical moorings to the life of Jesus it had possessed. Which each passing year, the chance of anything even vaguely historically accurate being added diminishes sharply, and the difference of a decade probably decreases the historicity by an order of magnitude.
Matthew completely invented the entire story of the Slaughter of the Innocents. This was pure fabrication, with absolutely no historical basis whatsoever. That is how he starts. Or, rather, he begins with a genealogy that is most likely also completely made up, and then moves on to the fictions of the Magi and the Slaughter of the Innocents. This does not do much to inspire trust in his historical credibility. As such, the idea that this aspect of the story bypassed Mark and came down to Matthew intact is, well, unlikely to say the least.
This is very significant. It is extremely important to understand this and to bear it firmly in mind. Again, we are seeing the story grow. It becomes embellished. Details are added; they do not get subtracted, lost in the retelling. Mark was the most circumspect in matters of the narrative setting. He included very little. Matthew, OTOH, adds to the narrative. Why? Because he had access to details that Mark didn’t? Of course it’s possible, sure, but historically very unlikely. That’s not how it works. No, Matthew added to the narrative to make the story more lively, more life-like, to make it more interesting. These sorts of fictitious details actually make the story more believable, because they impart that sense of having been there. The details bring the story to life.
That was a very long discussion of an extremely minor point. But from the foot, Hercules. This is a saying attributed to Pythagoras, who said he could work out the proportions of the statue from just using its foot. But more figuratively it has the sense that small details that can provide insights into something much larger. Why did Matthew write a gospel when Mark had already done so? Because Matthew felt he had more to add to the story. Were these additions factually accurate? Just asking that question is to miss the point. Some of the additions may have been, but most probably weren’t. Matthew had to add the element of Jesus’ divinity from birth, of his royal lineage, and he added lots about what Jesus taught. It would be ever-so-lovely to think that there was a little book of Jesus’ teachings that got handed down to Matthew (somehow bypassing Mark completely), that accurately recorded stuff Jesus said; but it would be ever-so-lovely to believe in unicorns, too. Oh, there were sources available to Matthew that hadn’t been available to Mark; the problem comes with the “accurately” part.
I’ve been reading–skimming, really–The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor. He’s professor of something at UNC Chapel Hill, and he does a lot of archaeology, but he believes that Luke’s embellishments are all–and that should be taken fairly literally–are historically accurate. He wants us to believe that we have found the Jesus family tomb, that we have found the grave stone of Jesus real father, the Roman soldier Pantera in Germany, and that Jesus rode a unicorn into Jerusalem. OK, I made up the last one. But he does believe that Q existed; moreover, he believes that it spoke a lot about John the Dunker, “as one might expect” Q would do. Not sure about you, but I would think a book recording Jesus’ teachings would record, well, Jesus’ teachings, not a lot of stuff about the Dunker. Anyway, my point is this: by throwing in these sorts of “historical” details, of Jesus going off to a solitary place, Matthew is tipping his hand. He is all-but telling us that whatever it is that we’re reading, it’s not history, and it should not be treated as such.
13 Quod cum audisset Iesus, secessit inde in navicula in locum desertum seorsum; et cum audissent, turbae secutae sunt eum pedestres de civitatibus.
14 καὶ ἐξελθὼν εἶδεν πολὺν ὄχλον, καὶ ἐσπλαγχνίσθη ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν τοὺς ἀρρώστους αὐτῶν.
15 ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης προσῆλθον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ λέγοντες, Ἔρημός ἐστιν ὁ τόπος καὶ ἡ ὥρα ἤδη παρῆλθεν: ἀπόλυσον τοὺς ὄχλους, ἵνα ἀπελθόντες εἰς τὰς κώμας ἀγοράσωσιν ἑαυτοῖς βρώματα.
And coming he saw a great crowd, and he was moved with compassion upon them and he healed their illnesses. (15) Having become evening, came to him his disciples saying, “This place is solitary, and the hour already has come. Send away the crowd, so that having gone away to the village they will buy for themselves food.”
A couple of points about the Greek. First, the “great” crowd. The adjective is actually more one of quantity than size. So it’s a reference to the number of people, rather than the physical space that it occupied. Second, the word I rendered as “moved with compassion” is strictly an NT word. As such, we can have it mean anything we want it to. An unknown word is infinite; or it has infinite meanings. Words that we know have been limited, whittled down into a particular meaning. That meaning can be vague and general, like the word “great”; or it can be very specific, like “defenestration”. This is the act of throwing someone or something out a window, and it means nothing else. Very, very specific. So for this word, Bible scholars have decided it means “moved with/to compassion.” The Classical root actually refers to the inward meats that are consumed at a sacrifice; another branch from this root means “womb”. I can see the progression from eating the innards of an animal to feeling compassion. Sort of. I don’t actually have a better meaning for the word, a more plausible meaning based on the root. But I do want to point out that this is very much a consensus meaning. It could mean something like, “and Jesus wanted to eat their internal organs”. However, the word does occur in a number of different contexts, so “moved with compassion” is at least reasonable.
Note once again the reference to the solitary nature of the surroundings. How credible is this, considering that they are on the shore of the Sea of Galilee? I’m skeptical, but I’m always skeptical. Except of my own theories, of course.
14 Et exiens vidit turbam multam et misertus est eorum et curavit languidos eorum.
15 Vespere autem facto, accesserunt ad eum discipuli dicentes: “ Desertus est locus, et hora iam praeteriit; dimitte turbas, ut euntes in castella emant sibi escas ”.
16 ὁ δὲ [Ἰησοῦς] εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν ἀπελθεῖν: δότε αὐτοῖς ὑμεῖς φαγεῖν.
17 οἱ δὲ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Οὐκ ἔχομεν ὧδε εἰ μὴ πέντε ἄρτους καὶ δύο ἰχθύας.
18 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν,Φέρετέ μοι ὧδε αὐτούς.
But [ he/Jesus ] said to them, “It is not necessary to go away. You give them (something) to eat”. (17) But they said to him, “We have nothing except five loaves and two fish”. (18) And he said, “Bring them here for me”.
I’m sure that this has been adequately commented, but what strikes me here is the way that Matthew doubly emphasizes how this was a solitary place. There are no people around, no towns, just empty space. This is how Matthew takes care to inform us, to make assurance double-sure as Macbeth put it, that there was nothing else around, that there was no other possible source for the food. They have the five loaves and two fish, and nothing else, and no recourse to anything else. This is why he added the double emphasis by telling us how Jesus went into the boat and sailed to a deserted place. Mark had told us, through the disciples and Jesus, that there was nothing around, but that was insufficient for Matthew. I point this out because it gives a really clear example of how the story grew. And it gives us a really clear reason for why the story, and stories in general, grow, and how such stories grow into legends that are repeated. Finally, this is proof positive of how Matthew added things that simply would not have been included in Q–had anything vaguely resembling the supposed reconstruction of Q actually existed in a single, unitary, written form.
And btw–by having the disciples bring the sum total of all their food to Jesus, Jesus becomes the sole source of provision. What comes, comes from him and nowhere else. Although, I did hear it suggested in a sermon that what this represented was the first-ever church potluck supper. My priest suggested that people would not have traveled out as they are said to have done without bringing some kind of provisions with them. After all, it wasn’t as if they could stop at McDonalds when they got hungry. That struck me as a very interesting suggestion. Maybe Jesus wasn’t the sole source of food. Which brings the legend-making process out into even sharper focus. Matthew had to insist doubly that this common practice of carrying food in your wallet–which Jesus forbade when he sent out the 12–was not followed on this occasion.
16 Iesus autem dixit eis: “ Non habent necesse ire; date illis vos manducare ”.
17 Illi autem dicunt ei: “ Non habemus hic nisi quinque panes et duos pisces ”.
18 Qui ait: “ Afferte illos mihi huc ”.
19 καὶ κελεύσας τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνακλιθῆναι ἐπὶ τοῦ χόρτου, λαβὼν τοὺς πέντε ἄρτους καὶ τοὺς δύο ἰχθύας, ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εὐλόγησεν καὶ κλάσας ἔδωκεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς τοὺς ἄρτους οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ τοῖς ὄχλοις.
And ordering the crowd to recline down in the barnyard, taking the five loaves and the two fish, raising them to the sky, blessing and breaking (them) he gave to the disciples the loaves, and the disciples (gave) to the crowd.
I’ll bet “barnyard” gave you a jolt. The word “chortos” in Classical Greek simply means “enclosed area”, such as a “feeding area”, where cattle are kept, with the sort of tacit understanding that this refers to a barnyard. It is only by several extensions, it comes to mean the fodder–the grass–itself. And yet this word is blithely translated as “grass”, without qualification. The KJV even goes along. Here we have a sterling example of how NT Greek gets shaped into a particular mold.
Actually, when this was the gospel passage in church a couple of weeks back, the use of “grass” caught my attention. Now, I have never been to Israel. I do not have first-hand familiarity of what the topography and the vegetation of the area around the Sea of Galilee are like. I have even less idea what the state of such things was in the First Century. My understanding, however, is that “grass” is not exactly abundant. This is an area of light rainfall, and grass requires a lot of water. This is why it’s so abundant in Ireland. So, we are to believe that there was a large, grassy area here?
But wait, there’s more. What do sheep eat? Grass; and other types of vegetation, but grass is a staple. Recall my comment about the likelihood of an empty spot along the shore of a large body of fresh water, in an area where fresh water was scarce. Now we have a patch of grass large enough for 5,000 people to sit, and yet, there were no shepherds in the area, feeding their sheep on this large patch of grass? We are starting to pile up improbabilities, and layers of improbability. What all of this layered improbability does is to demonstrate the quality of the legend-process. This story was already in place when Mark wrote. And btw, Mark did mention the green grass. I just didn’t pick up on it then. Matthew expanded. It now occurs to me that the presence of the grass may itself have been part of the miraculous nature of the story. Here we have a big, open (when a “chortos” is an enclosed area) patch of grass where the crowd can recline for their dinner; recall, in Graeco-Roman, and upper crust Jewish circles, dinner was eaten whilst reclining on a couch. Perhaps the tale of the potluck dinner wasn’t far off, and maybe a few sheep were purchased, slaughtered, and cooked, or maybe some more fish were caught. Maybe, IOW, there was some sort of historical basis for this story, but within a generation–or slightly more–by the time Mark wrote, it had become a miracle. One that Matthew duly amplified.
Note on the Greek: I’ve come to realise that I’ve been very sloppy and lax about how I translate aorist participles. Some of that is, admittedly, laziness. But some is because it’s often difficult to have put across the ideas of both continuing action (-ing ending) with past tense. If it’s continuing, it’s not past. Here I chose the continuing action; I could just as easily have said “having broken”, but that’s the perfect tense in English. Greek has a perfect tense, too. And it loses the process-implication given by the -ing ending.
Second note on the Greek: here, the word I’ve been translating as “heavens” is singular (ouranos). Matthew talks about the “kingdom of the heavens” (ouranoi). As such, I am not sure that “heaven” is entirely appropriate here, and yet that is what we get, even from the KJV. As such, I have rendered it here as “sky”. Matthew deliberately uses the plural in most cases, and here he deliberately uses the singular. This indicates that he wants to get across a different nuance. And I say he did this deliberately since and manuscript corruption, mis-copying the word, should make it more likely that a later scribe would put this into the plural, since that is what Matthew generally uses. And my hard copy NT does not show any manuscript variations showing this as “heavens”. So I will stick by “sky”.
In which case, we have to ask “why”. Why did he chose singular over plural in this case? This seems to go unremarked by the commentaries I’ve consulted. Does it indicate that, for Matthew, “the sky” and “the heavens” were not synonymous? In Classical Greek, the singular and the plural were not, strictly speaking, synonymous. The sky was singular; the plural indicated “the heavens”, in the sense of the universe: the realm of the sun, moon, stars, & planets. This has all sorts of interesting implications. I checked, and the magoi (Latinized as ‘magi’) saw the star “in the east”. They don’t say whether it was in the sky, or in the heavens. The latter use is especially prevalent in philosophy; but we need to understand that “philosophy” encompasses a lot more than Plato and Aristotle. It also includes what we would call proto-science, and one proto-science is what we would call astronomy. But there was really no distinction between astronomy–the mechanical study of celestial objects (celestial being the Latin for “heaven”)–as opposed to what we would call astrology–the purported influence of these heavenly objects over humans and the events on earth. So does Matthew think that Heaven (our word) is different from the sky? Is the kingdom the heavens a slightly different concept from the kingdom of God? Was the latter meant to appear on earth, while the kingdom of the heavens has taken us into the realm of the afterlife?
This is a fascinating thought. However, I’m going to save it for Chapter 16, when we get additional uses of the singular form, of “the sky”. Based on my sneak preview there, “sky” is the appropriate translation here. That changes the sense of the passage in not a small degree.
19 Et cum iussisset turbas discumbere supra fenum, acceptis quinque panibus et duobus piscibus, aspiciens in caelum benedixit et fregit et dedit discipulis panes, discipuli autem turbis.
20 καὶ ἔφαγον πάντες καὶ ἐχορτάσθησαν, καὶ ἦραν τὸ περισσεῦον τῶν κλασμάτων δώδεκα κοφίνους πλήρεις.
21 οἱ δὲ ἐσθίοντες ἦσαν ἄνδρες ὡσεὶ πεντακισχίλιοι χωρὶς γυναικῶν καὶ παιδίων.
22 Καὶ εὐθέως ἠνάγκασεν τοὺς μαθητὰς ἐμβῆναι εἰς τὸ πλοῖον καὶ προάγειν αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ πέραν, ἕως οὗ ἀπολύσῃ τοὺς ὄχλους.
23 καὶ ἀπολύσας τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος κατ’ ἰδίαν προσεύξασθαι. ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης μόνος ἦν ἐκεῖ.
And all ate they were fed, and they took up the abundance of broken pieces twelve baskets filled. (21) Those having eaten were men so much as five thousand, women and children separate. (22) And immediately he compelled the disciples to embark on the boat and they went ahead of him to the (other) side, until he released the crowd. (23) And the crowd having been released he (Jesus) went away to a mountain by himself, and it having become evening, he was alone.
First, the verb << ἐχορτάσθησαν >>, that I rendered as “they were fed” is derived from << χόρτου >>; this is “chortos” which most simply translate as “grass”. Here you can see pretty clearly that the base meaning of this word concerns eating. Since farm animals generally eat vegetation, including grass–and oats, wheat, barley, and hay are forms of grass–the two meanings coalesced. But they coalesced from the feeding place to the food. Second, the idea of being satiated is not an integral part of this verb. It’s used in that way, but it’s a fifth or sixth meaning.
Second, “it had become evening” when the feeding started. It “had become evening” again, when Jesus went to the mountain.
Anyway, I think the symbolism of this story is either fairly clear, or has been made so by lots of commentary. These are the Israelites in the desert, being fed miraculously. Now, the question is whether Jesus should be taken as Moses, or as God might be a little ambiguous. I suppose Moses is the most likely, but that carries implications. This is an old story, already a set-piece by the time Mark wrote. As such, it falls into the wonder-worker tradition. As such, Jesus = Moses. As such, Jesus is not equal to God. He is not one of the Three Persons, co-equal, co-eternal. This is the sort of tradition that came down to Mark. Jesus was first a wonder-worker, only second a teacher. This is why we get so many stories of wonders worked, and very little of his teaching. Hence the need to invent Q.
I’m going to have to discuss Q again.
20 Et manducaverunt omnes et saturati sunt; et tulerunt reliquias fragmentorum duodecim cophinos plenos.
21 Manducantium autem fuit numerus fere quinque milia virorum, exceptis mulieribus et parvulis.
22 Et statim iussit discipulos ascendere in naviculam et praecedere eum trans fretum, donec dimitteret turbas.
23 Et dimissis turbis, ascendit in montem solus orare. Vespere autem facto, solus erat ibi.
This chapter begins with the story of the death of John the Baptist. As with other of Mark’s long stories, Matthew abbreviates to some extent. Granted, at first glance, this may seem to contradict my contention that stories get longer, not shorter, as legends grow. But recall John’s earlier appearance: it was much longer than what we found in Mark. There is where the legend grew. This part of the story was likely well-enough known that the full details did not need to be repeated. That may seem contradictory, but it’s the legend of Jesus that was growing. In the Baptist’s earlier appearance, he became much more closely attached to the message of Jesus; for the evangelists, that is the part that matters. This story was complete when it came to Mark; it did not involve Jesus. As such, there was no reason to extend it as happened with the earlier part of John’s story.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that Josephus tells a story that agrees in general outline. He says that John was executed for proclaiming that Herod’s marriage to Herodias, the widow of the tetrarch’s brother, was illegitimate, just as Matthew (and Mark before him) reports here. Josephus also agrees that John was respected, if not revered, as a holy man by the people at large; however, Josephus does not tell us about Salome dancing. This makes one wonder where this part of the story came from, and who first told it. Is there any factual basis? The Salome element makes this feel a lot like a morality play, so my initial reaction is towards skepticism; but that’s my default reaction. I always disbelieve first, and then see if the weight of the evidence is sufficient to persuade otherwise.
1 Ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ ἤκουσεν Ἡρῴδης ὁ τετραάρχης τὴν ἀκοὴν Ἰησοῦ,
2 καὶ εἶπεν τοῖς παισὶν αὐτοῦ, Οὗτός ἐστιν Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστής: αὐτὸς ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο αἱ δυνάμεις ἐνεργοῦσιν ἐν αὐτῷ.
In that season, Herod the Tetrarch heard the hearing (repute) of Jesus. (2) And he said to all his servants, “He is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead, and because of this the miracles operate in him”.
I believe we’ve discussed the term “tetrarch”. It means “four rulers”, or conversely, “ruler of a fourth” (as in kingdom). After the death of Herod the Great just before the turn to the Common Era, there were disturbances in Judea as different candidates sought to succeed Herod. As a consequence, the Emperor Augustus eliminated the title of “King”. He divided Herod’s kingdom into four parts, the ruler of each called a tetrarch. This Herod was given the portion that included Galilee.
One thing that seems odd is that Herod is saying this to all his servants. The word used is literally “child”. We came across this in the story of the Centurion; in that case, “servant” seemed to make sense. It likely does here, too. What is interesting is that Herod is talking to his servants, or his attendants. Maybe “advisers” is the best word. It may be that this word is used in distinction with “slave”, perhaps to indicate members of the household as opposed to slaves who labour in a more physical capacity. I don’t know that this is the nuance intended, but here the sense would be “members of the household”. That is, those with whom he interacted most often.
Claiming that Jesus was the resurrected John was, obviously, a way of connecting the two. If later followers were embarrassed by Jesus’ apparent subservience to John, this part of the story could easily have been omitted. But, rather than being embarrassed, my contention is that the followers of Jesus were responsible for coming up with this line. It not only connected the two, but it put Jesus into the superior position as the one who superseded the other. And it mentions that Jesus performed wonders, something that John was never credited with doing.
It’s worth noting that Josephus told a longer story about John than he did about Jesus. On the face of it, this would indicate that Josephus considered John to be more important than Jesus. This is significant because Josephus wrote towards the end of the end of the First Century, probably after Matthew, which means that John was still a significant figure two generations after his death. This provides good reason, it would seem, for Jesus followers to want to associate Jesus with John. And here, I think, is the best place we can see that desire. First, Jesus = John, then by implication, Jesus > John, which would be an attractive feature for John’s followers. That the nascent Christians would want to attract John’s followers is not unusual–especially if we remember that this story first appeared in Mark, when the number of Jews joining the Jesus movement would still be significant. That the story was retained by Matthew, and even Luke, and then told by Josephus demonstrates that the cult of the Baptist had certainly not disappeared, and perhaps had not even waned all that much. That there was a second revolt of the Jews in 132 may show us why John’s cult proved resilient.
Here is another bit of speculation. What if Aslan was right, but about the wrong figure? What if it was John who was the Zealot? This has, to the best of my knowledge, never been suggested. One major reason is that John is genarally considered to have been associated the Essenes. This group, of course, was the sect that left behind the Dead Sea Scrolls. They had withdrawn into the desert, just as later Christians would do throughout Europe, following the Rule of St Benedict. In truth, however, this association of John with the Essenes is based on the description in the gospels that John lived an ascetic life in the desert. That is, there is just as much evidence to say that John was an Essene as there is to say he was a zealot: none. This, however, refers to direct evidence. Josephus does say that one reason Herod killed John was the former’s fear that the Dunker would foment rebellion.
This statement does a number of things, but they are probably best left to the discussion of the reason given for Jesus’ execution. Call this a teaser.
1 In illo tempore audivit He rodes tetrarcha famam Iesu
2 et ait pueris suis: “Hic est Ioannes Baptista; ipse surrexit a mortuis, et ideo virtutes operantur in eo”.
3 Ὁ γὰρ Ἡρῴδης κρατήσας τὸν Ἰωάννην ἔδησεν [αὐτὸν] καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ ἀπέθετο διὰ Ἡρῳδιάδα τὴν γυναῖκα Φιλίππου τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ:
4 ἔλεγεν γὰρ ὁ Ἰωάννης αὐτῷ, Οὐκ ἔξεστίν σοι ἔχειν αὐτήν.
For Herod overpowering John bound him and put him away under guard because Herodias the wife of Philipp his (Herod’s) brother. (4) For John said to him (Herod) “It is not worthy for you to have her”.
Josephus also attests this. However, Josephus wrote ten years after Matthew, and a full generation after Mark. At least, we can say that Josephus corroborates what Mark/Matthew have said, that this was the commonly-understood explanation for John’s arrest. I seriously doubt that Josephus would have gotten the account from one of the gospels. Yes, it’s possible, but unlikely.
3 Herodes enim tenuit Ioannem et alligavit eum et posuit in carcere propter Herodiadem uxorem Philippi fratris sui.
4 Dicebat enim illi Ioannes: “ Non licet tibi habere eam ”.
5 καὶ θέλων αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι ἐφοβήθη τὸν ὄχλον, ὅτι ὡς προφήτην αὐτὸν εἶχον.
And wishing to kill him he feared the crowd, that as a prophet they held him.
This literally says they “held” him. So the idiom is not peculiar to English.
We are told Herod feared the crowd, so he did not kill John. But then, he does kill John. This is where Josephus claims that a defeat suffered by Herod in battle was his just desserts for having killed John, whom they held to be a holy man. In the final analysis, however, Herod did kill John, so we have to ask whether this assessment of Herod’s motive is valid, or accurate. The execution, according to Josephus, occurred in the fortress of Macherus, well away from the pressing crowd. So this imputed fear was hardly an insuperable obstacle preventing the execution. I mention this because fear also supposedly the reason the religious authorities did not act openly against Jesus; they, too, we are told, feared the crowd. But both men were executed, regardless.
In the case of Jesus, the motivation and explanation is a bit more subtle. In Jesus’ death, Mark (and those who followed his reasoning, which is all the other evangelists) had to simultaneously put the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jewish authorities and come up with a reason why they didn’t carry out the deed directly. For this, fear of the crowd served as an excuse, to the point that it’s also said of John. And yet, this fear is not mentioned by Josephus (nor is the dance of Salome), who says that John was bundled off to Macherus and killed. To be fair, Herod could be said to have killed John from fear of the crowd–fear that John would use the crowd to revolt; but that is not the implication here. Here we are told Herod feared the crowd if he were to let John live; he did not fear to kill John. So John’s death was a pre-emptive strike, as it were.
The final point of interest is calling John a prophet. I’ve been reading some stuff of James Tabor: his blog and I’ve started The Jesus Dynasty. Per Dr/Prof Tabor, being called a “prophet” is the highest compliment that could paid to an individual among Jews. (In Greece, the supreme epithet was “Lawgiver”.) So the reverence of John was great; or so we are told. This hearkens back to the end of the last chapter, in which Jesus is said to have said that “a prophet is not without honour, except in his home land”. The use of “prophet” then puts that comment squarely into the context of “mainstream” Judaism of the time. That is, Jesus is a Jewish prophet, but not the Christian–or, really, pagan–Christ. So this reinforces, I believe, my contention that the story about the home town is early, one that came down to Mark, and one that either pre-dated, or more likely ran parallel to the Christ tradition. As such, it’s a good indication that the association of Jesus with Nazareth had not happened yet since the name of the town is not mentioned in the story where it would have been most appropriate.
5 Et volens illum occidere, timuit populum, quia sicut prophetam eum habebant.
6 γενεσίοις δὲ γενομένοις τοῦ Ἡρῴδου ὠρχήσατο ἡθυγάτηρ τῆς Ἡρῳδιάδος ἐν τῷ μέσῳ καὶ ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ,
7 ὅθεν μεθ’ ὅρκου ὡμολόγησεν αὐτῇ δοῦναι ὃ ἐὰν αἰτήσηται.
Having become the (day of) the becoming of Herod (his birthday, IOW), danced the daughter of Herodias in the (their) midst and it was pleasing to Herod. (7) When with oaths he promised to give to her what she wanted.
As mentioned above, there is none of this in Josephus. Thus, we must ask why. Either Josephus did not know the story, or he chose to leave it out. Recall that the tale of the death of the Baptist is related as the reason for Herod’s military defeat. We all know where the story is going; Herod wasn’t “pleased”; he was aroused. As such, this reflects really badly on Herod, and it’s pretty salacious as well. Josephus is not exactly a partisan of Herod, so he has no reason to suppress this part of the story to preserve Herod’s reputation. Plus, the salacious aspect would have been, I think, and inducement to Josephus to include it.
So if he likely would have included it had he known about it, chances are he didn’t know about it. This, in turn, implies two things: 1) that Josephus was not familiar with NT writings. This shouldn’t surprise us. These writings were probably not known outside the circle of Christians. And 2) that this story was restricted to the NT. That is, it was not in common circulation, where Josephus would have come across it in his “research”, whatever this consisted of. From there, it’s a pretty short step to conclude–or at least infer–that this aspect of the story was restricted to the NT because the authors of the NT invented this part of the story. It may have been Mark who did so, but this is one of the set-pieces–the Gerasene demonaic is another–that feel like Mark received and transmitted them as a whole. Just because it “feels” like this does not prove that this is true. Conversely, even if Mark did receive as a unit, this does not demonstrate that the story is true, either. The passion story probably came to Mark more or less as we get it, but that doesn’t mean it’s true, in the sense of historically accurate.
So this part–the dancing–was concocted. Why? To discredit Herod. Who had motive to do this? Lots of people, but the Baptist’s disciples would be the prime candidate. Thus, was this entire story created by followers of John? With the salacious details added to make Herod seem like a weak man? This is entirely possible, and has the ring of plausibility as well. What implications does this theory carry? One is that the followers of Jesus were communicant with the followers of John, if only indirectly. Another is that the followers of John & Jesus were creating their own particular historical traditions. Of course, we don’t know–can’t know, given present evidence–the actual factuals; it could be that the story presented here is how it all went down. But I doubt it, for reasons I’ll get to shortly.
6 Die autem natalis Herodis saltavit filia Herodiadis in medio et placuit Herodi,
7 unde cum iuramento pollicitus est ei dare, quodcumque postulasset.
8 ἡ δὲ προβιβασθεῖσα ὑπὸ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτῆς, Δός μοι, φησίν, ὧδε ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ.
9 καὶ λυπηθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους καὶ τοὺς συνανακειμένους ἐκέλευσεν δοθῆναι,
She (the daughter) having been led on by her mother, “Give me”, she said, “upon a platter the head of John the Baptist. (9) And being vexed the king on account of the oaths and those reclining at meal ordered it (the head) to be given.
Here’s where this starts to smell a bit. Herod, that weak man, so inflamed with lust by the dancing of his wife’s daughter, makes a rash promise and then is caught by the wiles of this same wife. So not only is he weak in the restraint of his lust, he’s weak in being able to run his own show without the interference of his wife. So the end result is that this starts sounding like a morality play. In Josephus, Herod is the mover, the one who decides to bundle John off to the fort of Macherus–away from the beaten path, away from the crowd, and execute John. Here, Herod is make to look like a bumbling fool, a victim of his appetites. Which is the more accurate picture? It’s very difficult to say.
There is one point to make here. Recall that after his baptism, Jesus seemed to use the arrest of John as the spur to begin his public ministry. But the interesting thing is that Jesus left the area where John was baptizing and returned to Galilee. It has been intimated time and again that Jesus went to Galilee because Herod had arrested John. But Herod was tetrarch of Galilee. So if Jesus were afraid of Herod, why not go somewhere Herod’s power didn’t reach? Retiring to Galilee makes little sense on the face of it if he were afraid of Herod. And what does that tell us about this episode? Anything?
Perhaps not directly, but put the two of them together, and we may have something. The result of Story 1 + Story 2 = an indication that historical consistency was not a major consideration for the evangelists. They told the story they had, without really worrying whether it all made historical sense. This, in turn, indicates that Mark and the other evangelists were indeed piecing together different pieces from different places. The gospels are, likely, a patchwork rather than a unified narrative. The evangelists put together what they encountered, whether it fit all that well or not. This, I believe, helps explain the lack of narrative unity in Mark, where a large–a very large–number of verses start abruptly with “and”, or perhaps “then”. Matthew here is somewhat better, but I’ve pointed to a number of what I believe feel like non-sequiturs, where bits are sort of strung together regardless of whether they fit.
And this, in turn, has a further implication. If we note, Matthew has more stories than Mark. Luke has an entire panoply stories over and above what Matthew has. Even if we concede Q, how do we explain all the stories that are in Luke, but not Matthew? And then there’s John, who has an entirely different repertoire of tales that do not appear in any of the other gospels. No, what is happening is that the tradition about Jesus is growing. New things are being made up. Mary Magdalene is a great example. We have heard nothing about her in Matthew. She only showed up at the very end of Mark, in a piece that may have been tacked on, even if by the evangelist. And yet, as time passes, we know more and more about her: Jesus had cast out seven devils from her, in some otherwise unknown exorcism. Then she becomes a prostitute (based, as far as I can tell, on no real textual evidence). The tradition is growing, it’s feeding on itself. This is why so much of the later tradition is wholly untrustworthy. We have Peter and Paul in Rome, based solely on the word of the author of Luke/Acts, the same author who did not scruple to create the blood-relationship between Jesus and the Baptist, which is another wholly new “fact” that we are given, one that has been swallowed whole by generations of “historians of the NT”. I started reading a book by James Tabor, and he essentially takes the whole narrative of the gospels as credible history. The point here is that, when looked at, the NT narratives are not internally consistent when compared against each other, or even within a single gospel. The NT is not history; we cannot compile the narrative “facts” from the different gospels and create a unified story. Rather, a closer examination of the structure shows how fragmented each gospel is.
8 At illa, praemonita a matre sua: “ Da mihi, inquit, hic in disco caput Ioannis Baptistae ”.
9 Et contristatus rex propter iuramentum et eos, qui pariter recumbebant, iussit dari
10 καὶ πέμψας ἀπεκεφάλισεν [τὸν] Ἰωάννην ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ:
11 καὶ ἠνέχθη ἡ κεφαλὴ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πίνακι καὶ ἐδόθη τῷ κορασίῳ, καὶ ἤνεγκεν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς.
12 καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἦραν τὸ πτῶμα καὶ ἔθαψαν αὐτό[ν], καὶ ἐλθόντες ἀπήγγειλαν τῷ Ἰησοῦ.
And sending (as in sending word), he beheaded John in the gaol. (11) And the head was carried upon a platter and given to the girl, and (she) gave it to her mother. (12) And coming, his (John’s) disciples took up the body and buried him, and coming the announced (this) to Jesus.
The most striking thing about these three verses is the last half of the last verse: “They announced (this) to Jesus”. It’s remarkable because it’s not in Mark. Overall, Matthew shortened the story, to the point of leaving out the name of Salome. (Whether this was actually her name, of course, is a different matter. This was a common family name of the women in the Herodian family; if this was the daughter of Herodias and her first husband–Herod’s brother–then it’s entirely plausible. This, of course, would make her Herod’s blood-niece.) And yet, as he has done in other places, Matthew has shortened the story, but added to it at the same time.
First, let’s ask what it means that Mark did not include this. In large part the implication–from the historian’s point of view–is that Mark did indeed receive this as a set-piece story, a complete whole. Mark simply inserted it where he deemed appropriate, without making any real attempt to integrate it. He did this because the Baptist was of interest to the followers of Jesus, but he wasn’t an integral part of the story as he would become in Luke, where he and Jesus were cousins. This reinforces what I said in the previous comment about the fragmentary nature of the gospel narratives: they were bits and pieces of tales that were strung together like beads.
This latter is certainly true in Mark, but it’s also true in Matthew, but in a different manner. Here, Matthew does attempt to integrate this story a little more effectively by adding this last line. Of course, this addition has other implications, which we’ll discuss in a moment. But it means that Matthew took some more concern to dress the component stones a little more neatly to make the fit tighter. He took a higher view of the idea of narrative: a continuous flow set out in something like a logical, or an organic order. So this addition of the last half of the last verse ties John more effectively into the overall story by letting us know John and Jesus were connected, rather than leaving John sort of hanging out there by himself, a sort of interlude between the sending and the return of the apostles as this story was in Mark. Even with this concern for narrative flow, however, the joins in Matthew are still there. He gathers like pieces together; this is the creation of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Matthew collects many of the attributed aphorisms and teachings of Jesus into a single place. This is the “masterful arrangement” that makes Q a logical necessity in the opinion of too many scholars. And we saw the same thing in the previous chapter, where Matthew aggregates basically all of the parables of the kingdom that he’s heard. That they are omitted by Luke is perhaps more a testament to Luke’s judgement than anything. Luke had his own theory of narrative, which we will look at when we get there. But back to Matthew, even this method of aggregation shows the welds. Story or aphorism follow each other, no matter how abrupt the transition. In those places–even in the Sermon on the Mount–we can feel that this is beadwork.
Superficially, the addition of the last half of Verse 12 does connect the two stories, putting the death of John into context in the overall narrative. But it does one other thing, and I do not believe this is accidental. It tells us that Jesus would want to know about John’s death, and that John’s disciples understand this about Jesus. That is, it shows that the two groups are still connected in some way, that there is communication and mutual interest between them. This is a splendid example of the legend growing. Bits are added, not forgotten. Salome’s name is not important, but this contact between the two groups is. Matthew chose to stress this. Remember, he had Mark; he would have known that Mark did not say this. Ergo, the addition was a deliberate choice on Matthew’s part. He chose to add this because he wanted to stress the connection between John and Jesus. Ten or more years after Matthew, Josephus would tell of John’s death, too, so the story was still popular, or at least carried some general interest. So this is why Matthew included it, but Matthew takes it a step further by insisting that the groups were still connected.
This has been my position throughout: that, far from being embarrassed by the “subservience” of Jesus to John, the evangelists were eager to promote the connection between the two. Matthew takes decided steps to re-arrange the hierarchy by clearly putting Jesus at the peak, but he does not want to downplay the relationship between them. Just the opposite: he wants to emphasize it.
10 misitque et decollavit Ioannem in carcere;
11 et allatum est caput eius in disco et datum est puellae, et tulit matri suae.
12 Et accedentes discipuli eius tulerunt corpus et sepelierunt illud et venientes nuntiaverunt Iesu.