Category Archives: Chapter 15

Summary Luke Chapter 15

This chapter contains both the stories of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son. Both are Christian “standards”, or even cliches; many non-observant Christians, or even non-Christians, understand the reference of a ‘prodigal son’ who ‘returns to the fold’ even if the finer points of detail are, at best, vague. The same is perhaps true of the maxim ‘lost sheep’, if to a lesser degree and less specifically. Yet, both of these stories, so fundamental to Christian self-image are unique to Luke; this means there is barely any chance that either of them actually traces back to Jesus. Rather, it is highly likely that Luke composed them both. This likelihood increases, it would seem, when we realize how closely linked the stories are both thematically and in terms of the lesson conveyed. This makes analysis much easier, since it’s really a compare and contrast situation.

First, there is the minor issue of Jesus’ behaviour, specifically the sort of people he hung around with. At the beginning of the chapter we are told that the respectable elements of society tsk-tsk over Jesus’ choice of companions. These latter are described as “tax-collectors (or publicans) and sinners. Christians have long seized on this as meaning the sort of people the Pharisees didn’t like; one meaning of “sinner” is prostitute. The classic example of this is in Luke Chapter 7, where the woman who is a “sinner” anoints Jesus with the contents of an expensive box of perfume. This is understood to mean that she was a prostitute. Of course, at this point I cannot describe how I know this, or where I first heard this, but it was long ago. I’m old enough to remember when Jesus Christ Superstar came out. I was in high school. In this, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a prostitute, and I know that this did not phase me; I fully understood that Mary M was a prostitute. This was one of those things that “everyone knows” about her. The problem is that neither of the other two gospels mention this about the woman. More, in Luke, the introduction of Mary M comes very shortly after this episode, but there is no apparent connexion between the two women. The anointing occurs in the end of Chapter 7; the introduction of Mary M comes a few verses in to Chapter 8. There is neither a grammatical nor a narrative link between the two women. The implication is that, once again, what “everyone knows” has no real scriptural basis. This is where tradition filled in the cracks with anecdotes and explanations. This, in turn, is an excellent demonstration of how stories grow. This is a great demonstration to explain why Matthew and Luke are so much longer than Mark; the story had grown by the time they wrote. There were more anecdotes. And Matthew and Luke more than likely created some of their own.

This is a bit of a digression. The point is that we are told numerous times that Jesus consorted with sinners. When sinners are mentioned, it is often in conjunction with tax collectors, as it is in this chapter. Apropos of this, another thing “everyone knows” is that Jesus spent time with the poor. The interesting thing is that tax collectors were decidedly not poor. Very much the opposite, in fact; they were very rich, and they got rich by squeezing the average person for as much as they could get. (We’ll discuss this more when we get to the story of Zaccheus.) Any sinners hanging around with publicans were not likely to be poor, either. When, exactly, are we shown Jesus consorting with the poor? The Bleeding Woman comes to mind, but that was a one-off contact. He raises the centurion’s slave, and the daughter of Jairus from the dead, but neither of these men were poor. In fact, use of the word for ‘poor’ is very sparse in the gospels. Jesus also spent a lot of time hanging around with Pharisees. The setting for the Lost Sheep is at a dinner with Pharisees. They were generally not poor either, but that is a broad statement that has no real evidence to support it. All that can be adduced is that people who gave the sort of dinner parties that Jesus frequently attended were not likely to be poor. So we have numerous instances of Jesus spending time in the company of the well-off, and very little with him actually consorting with the poor. Interestingly, some for of the word “poor” occurs less than 30 times in the NT. Several of those are repetitions between gospels (poor/poor in spirit; give the money to the poor, etc), so this is not a terribly common theme for Jesus and his followers. It occurs five times each in Mark and Matthew, but three times in the much shorter epistle of James. Luke is the most frequent user, coming in at nine, but it does not appear at all in Acts. The implication seems to be that we need, perhaps, to reconsider just how solicitous of the poor Jesus was. How integral was this message to his mission?

The rest of the chapter is given over to the stories of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal son, with the parable of the Lost Coin shoe-horned in between. The theme of all stories is being lost and then found. This leads us to ask what it means to be “lost” and “found”. Doing this we immediately run into yet another “everybody knows” situation. Being lost means we’re lost to a life of sin; found, means we’ve found our way back to God and so attained our salvation. We’ve been saved. Funny, thing, however; the term ‘saved’ does not appear even once in this chapter. We saw that ‘poor’ was used less than 30 times in the whole NT; some variation of ‘saved’ occurs more than three times as often, upwards of 100 instances (I lost count of the exact amount; doesn’t matter. It’s a lot) in the NT. But, you say, there is joy in the sky when a lost sheep is found, or the prodigal son returns. This is true. But joy and celebration by whom? By those who have been saved before? Or by God and the Heavenly Host? Remember, the injunction is to repent; that can simply mean to honor the God of Judah, the way that King Hezekiah did in 2 Kings. Note that during a quick skim through some of the HS dealing with the apostasy of Israel and the faithfulness of Judah (most of the time), I did not see the word “saved” at all. Unfortunately, since it’s written in Hebrew I can’t search the Greek on the site I use for translations. I tried– half-heartedly, perhaps– to find a Greek Septuagint that would let me search the Greek for specific words without success. This means I cannot compare vocabulary at this point, which means we cannot be terribly certain about the rejoicing in heaven. There is no reason why we cannot equate being found and being saved; there is nothing to exclude one from the other. We have to ask whether it feels right, if it feels like this is what Luke means by “found”. Being the skeptical, cantankerous sort that I am, I tend not to think so. Luke used the word ‘saved’ enough; he was no stranger to it. So why not here?

Of course, that question cannot be answered. And of course, I have no real argument to convince anyone of my position. It’s a sense I get from having read the text word-for-word as I have, one develops a feel for what the text is doing. Or, one comes to believe that one has developed such a feel. This again, cannot be proven one way or the other. I’m rather surprised that there is not more to say on this. The point is the degree of interpretation required. Just bear that in mind, always. These topics are not nearly as settled as we would like to believe. Even the Reformation Protestants did not take a chainsaw to Tradition nearly to the they imagined. There is still a lot of “everyone knows” thinking that continues to be perpetuated.



Luke Chapter 15:11-32 The Prodigal Son

This is a very long piece of Greek. I try not to do sections that are too long so I can keep the posts moving along, but this is all a single story, and breaking it into arbitrary pieces would only complicate matters.

This follows hard on the heels of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. All three are unique to Luke, and most likely created by him. There is no sound historical reason to doubt or question that he is the author. The idea of an “L” source is just creating bodies needlessly, and there is no evidence of any such thing. At some point it will be necessary to take a step back and attempt to create a likely series of events that occurred after Jesus’ death. The interesting thing is that what happened after his death is more important than what actually happened when he was alive. We have nothing written about him before the 50s, which comes from Paul. It is key to note that Paul showed pretty much no interest in anything Jesus did before rising from the dead.

The common theme of these three stories is repentance. The lost is found. This is a very important, indeed crucial topic. As such, it’s probably best to save the discussion & comparison for the chapter summary. With that expectation, here is the



11 Εἶπεν δέ, Ἄνθρωπός τις εἶχεν δύο υἱούς.

12 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ νεώτερος αὐτῶν τῷ πατρί, Πάτερ, δός μοι τὸ ἐπιβάλλον μέρος τῆς οὐσίας. ὁ δὲ διεῖλεν αὐτοῖς τὸν βίον.

(11) And he said, “There was a certain man who had two sons. (12) And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share being thrown on me (= inheritance, apparently) of the things existing (= your possessions, apparently). He (the father) divided his life to them.

Have to note the Greek vocabulary here. I’ve given the literal translations along with the “standard” meaning in parentheses. “Share being thrown on me” is rather colorful. But the word meros means portion or share, usually used with the allotment of land given to someone, as when a colony was founded and the land divided, or the portion of an inheritance. It’s the “being thrown upon me” that is a bit…odd, but the Greek word is that for “to throw”. And here is where the Greek verb tenses get a little funky. “Being thrown” is a present participle, so the published translations say something like, “that comes/falls to me”. Maybe it’s just me, but I think of the estate being divided at the death of the father, so I would put this in the future. But this may be my lack of understanding of how inheritance worked at the time. Next, the things divided are ousias; this is a participle of the verb “to be”. It gets used a lot in philosophy for “existence”, but it does stretch to “possessions” in pagan Greek as well. So not too much of a mental leap. One thing I note is that Greek uses a lot of participles when we would use nouns. A participle is the -ing form of a verb. So, rather than being just something static, possessions, the thought behind is active, existing. These things don’t just sit there and exist; they are performing an action by existing. Finally, “divided his life”. That is, the father divided the things that make up his life; hence, his possessions. We call it the estate. Peeking at the Latin, we have substantia, which = “resources”. The cognate shows it means ‘things of substance’, but the form of the word is a noun, so much closer to our way of thinking. Actually, can’t recall where I read it, but someone commented that using the Latin Bible for a millennium or more really had a profound impact on the Western Church, and that much of the theological history of the Western Church was the result of translating Greek thoughts into Latin language. The two languages do look at the world differently.

11 Ait autem: “ Homo quidam habebat duos filios.

12 Et dixit adulescentior ex illis patri: “Pater, da mihi portionem substantiae, quae me contingit”. Et divisit illis substantiam.

13 καὶ μετ’ οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας συναγαγὼν πάντα ὁ νεώτερος υἱὸς ἀπεδήμησεν εἰς χώραν μακράν, καὶ ἐκεῖ διεσκόρπισεν τὴν οὐσίαν αὐτοῦ ζῶν ἀσώτως.

“And after not many days gathering all the younger son went abroad to a distant country, and there he squandered his existing things in a life unsaved.

The last word is interesting. It’s from the root of “to save”, and is very close to the word for “saviour”. But it has the a- prefix, which is negation, such as a-moral. It’s an adverb, describing how he was living: in a manner not saved, or perhaps ‘not safe’. The ESV translates as “reckless”, and that’s much better than “riotous” or “loose”. The Latin is luxuriose, which probably needs no translation. Again, a difference in the way the two languages approach the concept. 

13 Et non post multos dies, congregatis omnibus, adulescentior filius peregre profectus est in regionem longinquam et ibi dissipavit substantiam suam vivendo luxuriose.

14 δαπανήσαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ πάντα ἐγένετο λιμὸς ἰσχυρὰ κατὰ τὴν χώραν ἐκείνην, καὶ αὐτὸς ἤρξατο ὑστερεῖσθαι.

15 καὶ πορευθεὶς ἐκολλήθη ἑνὶ τῶν πολιτῶν τῆς χώρας ἐκείνης, καὶ ἔπεμψεν αὐτὸν εἰς τοὺς ἀγροὺς αὐτοῦ βόσκειν χοίρους:

16 καὶ ἐπεθύμει χορτασθῆναι ἐκ τῶν κερατίων ὧν ἤσθιον οἱ χοῖροι, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδίδου αὐτῷ.

“Having squandered all of his (money), there became a strong famine upon that country, and he began to fall behind (= to be left behind = to want, as in being at the end of the line and there’s nothing left). (15) And going/departing he glued himself to a citizen of that country, and the citizen sent him to his fields to feed the swine. (16) And he wished to eat of the husks of which the pigs fed, and no one gave anything to him.

I like the “glued himself”. I also could have chosen “cemented himself”; the concept of “attaching” is pretty clear. Second, the man was probably a pagan. There are two clues for this. First, if the man is raising swine, chances are, he was pagan. This is interesting, because Luke is supposed to be the pagan of the four (but I suspect Matthew was, too). The idea of feeding pigs would have been the lowest of the low to Jewish sensibilities, since pigs were unclean. I suppose Jews may have owned pigs, but I don’t think we’re supposed to go that direction. Rather, ties in with second clue, which is the “far country” in Verse 13. If one left Judea or Galilee and went any distance– even a short one, really– one would pretty much be in pagan territory. There were places that had large Jewish populations, like Alexandria and Babylon, but still the territory would have a pagan majority. Finally, is he working for free? Why does he not have a paycheck to purchase food? Wasn’t that the point? Or even if he were working for room & board, he should, theoretically, be recompensed for his labor. That’s kind of how it works, and that is why he got himself a job. Now, maybe the board provided was insufficient to keep him full; in times of famine, one would expect a surplus of labor, which would drive down the wages labor can command. This would mean that the wage paid may not have been sufficient for keeping a working person. And the odd thing is that slaves actually fared better than hired hands. Slaves represented an investment of capital, and the owner understood that it worked to his favor to maintain the slave at a level that kept the slave productive. A hired hand, OTOH, was completely expendable. Hire them when needed, fire them when not.

14 Et postquam omnia consummasset, facta est fames valida in regione illa, et ipse coepit egere.

15 Et abiit et adhaesit uni civium regionis illius, et misit illum in villam suam, ut pasceret porcos;

16 et cupiebat saturari de siliquis, quas porci manducabant, et nemo illi dabat.

17 εἰς ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἐλθὼν ἔφη, Πόσοι μίσθιοι τοῦ πατρός μου περισσεύονται ἄρτων, ἐγὼ δὲ λιμῷ ὧδε ἀπόλλυμαι.

18 ἀναστὰς πορεύσομαι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ ἐρῶ αὐτῷ, Πάτερ, ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐνώπιόν σου,

19 οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἄξιος κληθῆναι υἱός σου: ποίησόν με ὡς ἕνα τῶν μισθίων σου.

“Coming to himself, he said, ‘How much abundance of bread the hired hands of my father (have); but I in hunger in this way am destroyed (I perish). (18) Standing, I will go to my father and say to him, (19) “Father, I have sinned against the sky and before you, I (am) no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hirelings”.’

The ‘coming to himself’ is an interesting usage. It sort of took me by surprise that the Greek would use an expression like this; it seems too modern. The Latin is “reversing to himself”, or “turning back to himself”, which is similar if not quite exact. Also, the word for ‘hireling’ is also the word often used for ‘reward’. Perhaps the common ground is ‘recompense’; so those recompensed will be paid, or they will receive their recompense in the sky as in Mt 5:12. “Great is your recompense in the heavens”. Looking at this from Matthew, the shading of recompense/reward becomes very clear. The concept behind “great is your reward in the heavens” carries a rather different set of connotations. And, BTW, the Latin for “hirelings” is mercennarii, the root of “mercenary”. It simply means “doing it for pay”.

17 In se autem reversus dixit: “Quanti mercennarii patris mei abundant panibus, ego autem hic fame pereo.

18 Surgam et ibo ad patrem meum et dicam illi: Pater, peccavi in caelum et coram te

19 et iam non sum dignus vocari filius tuus; fac me sicut unum de mercennariis tuis”.

20 καὶ ἀναστὰς ἦλθεν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ. ἔτι δὲ αὐτοῦ μακρὰν ἀπέχοντος εἶδεν αὐτὸν ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐσπλαγχνίσθη καὶ δραμὼν ἐπέπεσεν ἐπὶ τὸν τράχηλον αὐτοῦ καὶ κατεφίλησεν αὐτόν.

21 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτῷ, Πάτερ, ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐνώπιόν σου, οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἄξιος κληθῆναι υἱός σου.

22 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ πατὴρ πρὸς τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ, Ταχὺ ἐξενέγκατε στολὴν τὴν πρώτην καὶ ἐνδύσατε αὐτόν, καὶ δότε δακτύλιον εἰς τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ καὶ ὑποδήματα εἰς τοὺς πόδας,

23 καὶ φέρετε τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν, θύσατε καὶ φαγόντες εὐφρανθῶμεν,

24 ὅτι οὗτος ὁ υἱός μου νεκρὸς ἦν καὶ ἀνέζησεν, ἦν ἀπολωλὼς καὶ εὑρέθη. καὶ ἤρξαντο εὐφραίνεσθαι.

“And standing he came to his father. Yet while he was still far away at a distance his father saw (him) and was moved to compassion and running fell upon his neck and kissed him. (21) The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against the sky and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ The father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring forth a robe first and dress him, and give rings to his fingers and sandals to his feet. (23) And bring the fatted calf, sacrificing eating we will rejoice. That this my son was dead and is (now) up living, was lost and is found’. And they began to celebrate. 

A number of things in here. First, in Verse 21, a minority of mss traditions add “make me as one of your hirelings”, which was in the speech the son practiced in Verse 21. The ESV, NIV, NASB, and KJV all exclude this extra bit of wording. It’s easy to see how it got into the text; some scribe somewhere was sort of going by wrote from what he had written a few verses before, and just kept going and added the part about the hireling. Or, it got truncated. Generally, the majority opinion represents the most likely explanation, and that could easily hold here. Offhand, I would say that the second set of circumstances would be more likely, so I would tend towards it getting left out rather than added to; however, that then requires explaining how the left out became the majority opinion and is found in the largest number of mss traditions. So, once again, I will plead agnostic on this; textual stuff is the realm of specialists, and I do not have the chops to have an opinion that’s worth anything.

Still, it’s an interesting style point to note how we get the practice speech and then the actual speech separated by a few verses. What does this say? Most notably the reader/listener really understands what the son’s message to the father is. That he is not worthy to be called son. This would be an argument in favor of the shorter version that we have here: this ends the son’s address to the father with “I am not worthy”, thereby giving this part of the message a greater rhetorical impact. And this then becomes more or less the theme of this whole parable. Despite not being worthy, we can all still be reconciled with God. This is a significant part of the Christian message, albeit one that some, perhaps, would like to ignore. We’ll get back to that when we discuss the overall message of this parable at the end of this section.

Just a bit on “up living’. The word here was coined by Luke; at least, this is the only recorded use of the word in any sort of literary context that has survived to our day. It is composed of the word “to live” with the prefix “ana”, which means “up”. So, “up to live”. The Latin is revixit, literally “to live again”, or, actually, “to re-live”. Can we stretch this to “resurrection”? It’s not out of the question. Is this a reference to being saved? Most likely, since he was lost but now has been found. More on this in a bit.

20 Et surgens venit ad patrem suum.

Cum autem adhuc longe esset, vidit illum pater ipsius et misericordia motus est et accurrens cecidit supra collum eius et osculatus est illum.

21 Dixitque ei filius: “Pater, peccavi in caelum et coram te; iam non sum dignus vocari filius tuus”.

22 Dixit autem pater ad servos suos: “Cito proferte stolam primam et induite illum et date anulum in manum eius et calceamenta in pedes

23 et adducite vitulum saginatum, occidite et manducemus et epulemur,

24 quia hic filius meus mortuus erat et revixit, perierat et inventus est”. Et coeperunt epulari.

25 ην δὲ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ὁ πρεσβύτερος ἐν ἀγρῷ: καὶ ὡς ἐρχόμενος ἤγγισεν τῇ οἰκίᾳ, ἤκουσεν συμφωνίας καὶ χορῶν,

26 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος ἕνα τῶν παίδων ἐπυνθάνετο τί ἂν εἴη ταῦτα.

27 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὅτι Ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἥκει, καὶ ἔθυσεν ὁ πατήρ σου τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν, ὅτι ὑγιαίνοντα αὐτὸν ἀπέλαβεν.

28 ὠργίσθη δὲ καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν εἰσελθεῖν. ὁ δὲ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ἐξελθὼν παρεκάλει αὐτόν.

29 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ, Ἰδοὺ τοσαῦτα ἔτη δουλεύω σοι καὶ οὐδέποτε ἐντολήν σου παρῆλθον, καὶ ἐμοὶ οὐδέποτε ἔδωκας ἔριφον ἵνα μετὰ τῶν φίλων μου εὐφρανθῶ:

30 ὅτε δὲ ὁ υἱός σου οὗτος ὁ καταφαγών σου τὸν βίον μετὰπορνῶν ἦλθεν, ἔθυσας αὐτῷ τὸν σιτευτὸν μόσχον.

31 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Τέκνον, σὺ πάντοτε μετ’ ἐμοῦ εἶ, καὶ πάντα τὰ ἐμὰ σά ἐστιν:

32 εὐφρανθῆναι δὲ καὶ χαρῆναι ἔδει, ὅτι ὁ ἀδελφός σου οὗτος νεκρὸς ἦν καὶ ἔζησεν, καὶ ἀπολωλὼς καὶ εὑρέθη.

“And his older son was in the field. And as he was coming nigh to the house, he heard symphonies and choruses, (26) and calling one of the boys (slaves) he asked what these things would be. (27) He (the slave) said to him (the elder), ‘Your brother arrived, and your father sacrificed the fatted calf, that healthy he received him back’. (28) He was angered and did not wish to come in. His father coming out called to him. (29) He (the son) answering said to his father, ‘Look, how so many years I slave for you and never circumvented your commandments and never did you give me a kid so that with my friends I may have celebrated. (30) But that your son came, he who having eaten your possessions with harlots returned, you sacrificed for him the fatted calf’. (31) He (the father) said to him (the elder), ‘Son, you always are with me, and all that I have is yours. (32) But look, rejoice and be happy that your brother who was dead and now lives (again; same verb as in Verse 23) and was lost, and has been found’.”

First, I just want to note that this is the end of the chapter. There is no further lesson, no explanation of the lesson, and no rebuttal by a Pharisee. Rhetorically and stylistically, this is the last word on the topic. It just stands.

And this lesson is similar to that of the Lost Sheep. There the shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness to find the one lost. Now, a sheep may have been an expensive loss, but I doubt the cost-benefit analysis on regaining the one outweighs the potential of the loss of the 99. The latter are left to fend for themselves. In similar manner, here the older brother is miffed that the younger is restored to good graces and– to the elder’s mind– so easily. In these stories the good people, the just (dikaios) as they are called here, seem to get short shrift. And, unfortunately, this is one of the hardest lessons for some Christians to learn. With whom do we identify in this story? Perhaps you were the riotous youth, but I was generally the sober one, studying and learning Greek whereas my older brother was, shall we say, a bit of a party animal. So yeah, I understand the chagrin of the just. We want the rotten kid to suffer. At least some, and even if we never admit it to ourselves, let alone anyone else. This is the innate and slightly counterintuitive appeal of Calvinism. All those “good folk” are convinced of which side they are on, so why bother with the reprobates? They’re just damned, and there’s nothing we can do for them. And since all God’s friends are rich, well, it’s easy to tell who’s on which team.

Many cultures in the ancient world had a concept that one’s soul would be judged post-mortem, and that the judgement would be something of a balancing act. Did your good outweigh your bad? The Egyptians believed our heart would be put on one side of the scale, and a feather on the other. If your heart outweighed the feather, you flunked the test. Catholicism is sort of in the mindset of the good/bad scale. Do something wrong, and you have to do penance for it, and it’s usually impossible to atone for all your sins in a single lifetime. Hence, the need for Purgatory, which the nuns assured us, we would all experience. Now, that’s not to argue for or against Purgatory, but it demonstrates very effectively the mindset of the ancient world. It’s also one of the most egregious things that Martin Luther saw as wrong with Catholic thinking. And there is good reason to argue that this was not the intent of this story, or that of the Lost Sheep. The Latin says do penance. The Greek says, be penitent, or repent. I can assure you that the penance that must be done for one’s sins was meted out at the end of confession. There are Mediaeval handbooks of penance that were intended as how-to manual for priests. Sin X should be atoned by Penance Y. That is not the message here.

Interestingly, this concept described here better reflects the Jewish attitude than the pagan attitude. After all, repentance was the word that the Baptist used in Mark. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, when devout Jews spend the whole day in Temple praying and asking forgiveness. [Full disclosure: I have never been in a Temple on Yom Kippur, so I cannot specify exactly what happens. That is the inference I’ve drawn from things I’ve heard.] 

The point here is that Jesus tells us that we don’t need to make up for all those misdeeds by trying to counterbalance them with good works, or works of penance. Rather, we need to repent, to be penitent. The word in Greek literally means “change (as in redirect) your mind”. When you have that change of mind, Luke says, and of heart, you will be given your full reward. 

25 Erat autem filius eius senior in agro et, cum veniret et appropinquaret domui, audivit symphoniam et choros

26 et vocavit unum de servis et interrogavit quae haec essent.

27 Isque dixit illi: “Frater tuus venit, et occidit pater tuus vitulum saginatum, quia salvum illum recepit”.

28 Indignatus est autem et nolebat introire. Pater ergo illius egressus coepit rogare illum.

29 At ille respondens dixit patri suo: “Ecce tot annis servio tibi et numquam mandatum tuum praeterii, et numquam dedisti mihi haedum, ut cum amicis meis epularer;

30 sed postquam filius tuus hic, qui devoravit substantiam tuam cum meretricibus, venit, occidisti illi vitulum saginatum”.

31 At ipse dixit illi: “Fili, tu semper mecum es, et omnia mea tua sunt;

32 epulari autem et gaudere oportebat, quia frater tuus hic mortuus erat et revixit, perierat et inventus est” ”.


Luke Chapter 15:1-10

This is the famous story of the Lost Sheep. It is unique to Luke. There is no real legitimate reason to believe that Luke did not compose this story himself. To the best of my knowledge, most scholarship would attribute this to a tradition that somehow preserved this story intact, but bypassed Mark & Matthew. Now, being honest and blunt, this is entirely possible. Since nothing was written about Jesus until the 50s, but, truly about Jesus, until the 70s, there were doubtless numerous strands of tradition about him. Paul tells us as much when he decries the Thessalonians for succumbing to “another gospel”. Indeed, that was part of the contention with James, brother of the lord: they had different messages, which, I suspect, went beyond Jewish dietary laws and circumcision.

So why not attribute this to the L Source? This is how the Q proponents account for the material unique to Luke; the material unique to Matthew has been dubbed M. While this is possible, it seems unlikely that there was a trove of material floating about that only Luke discovered. And part of the argument is that L and M were oral traditions; only Q was written. It is possible, indeed probably, that such traditions existed. What is unlikely, and highly so, is that these traditions actually traced back to Jesus. Much more likely is that different communities came up with their own set of stories, just like different areas came up with their own episodes for the Arthurian legends. However, while possible, I believe this does a disservice to both Matthew and Luke. Both evangelists were men of some erudition, and each crafted a gospel that fit in with his particular view of Jesus. These views were not always entirely consistent, but they worked towards consistency; I suspect the process reaches apotheosis with John, but we’ll find out when we get there. For now, let’s turn to the



1) ησαν δὲ αὐτῷ ἐγγίζοντες πάντες οἱ τελῶναι καὶ οἱ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἀκούειν αὐτοῦ.

2 καὶ διεγόγγυζον οἵ τε Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς λέγοντες ὅτι Οὗτος ἁμαρτωλοὺς προσδέχεται καὶ συνεσθίει αὐτοῖς.

There were approaching to him the tax-collectors and sinners to hear him. (2) And muttering were the Pharisees and the Scribes, saying that, “He receives sinners and eats with them.”

That Jesus consorted with publicans and sinners is found in all three gospels. It is very tempting to see this as authentic tradition. It does not exactly square with the idea of Jesus being a magician; these latter usually sought out the more substantial members of society who were able to pay for their services. Then, OTOH, it does not say that Jesus was consorting with the poor, but with sinners. Publicans were notoriously wealthy, attaining this wealth by squeezing taxpayers for more than the required amount. The Roman Empire outsourced tax collection to private contractors in the free market. Would-be publicans bid on how much they would collect, and Roman officials accepted the highest bidder. The contractor then had to squeeze the public for an amount over and above the contract amount in order to realize a profit. That these successful contractors were generally wealthy indicates their efficiency and ruthlessness in collection activities. IOW, if you think the government is rapacious, see what happens if this gets outsourced. And there are proposals out there that this should happen. 

So is this an an accurate description of Jesus’ behavior? That may strike many people as an absurd question. Of course he acted this way. That’s what the NT tells us he did. It’s one of the bases of the Christian ideal. The problem with this assessment, of course, is that we have no evidence for Jesus’ behaviour. The NT does not provide anything close to an actual historical record. Matthew and Luke both tell whopping big lies in their birth narratives*; so, from the start, we should be very selective about taking anything they say at face value. Because what kind of sinners were these people? Well, Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Except nowhere are we told this in the NT. This was part of later tradition. There was the woman who anointed Jesus with the perfume, who the Pharisees tut-tutted was a sinner, by which *nudge-nudge wink-wink* we’re supposed to infer a prostitute; however, nowhere is this woman called Mary Magdalene, and she is not called a sinner in any of the other versions. Matthew uses the word “sinner” five times, and three of them are canned phrase “publicans and sinners”. It’s enough to make one wonder if part of the reason Jesus was reviled by the Jewish establishment (if, indeed, he was) had more to do with him hanging out with tax collectors than ‘sinners’ per se. And interestingly, hanging out with publicans would have been pro-Roman behavior; IOW, instead of railing against Rome, he was chummy with the collaborators. Makes one wonder about the whole zealot thing. Or, it should.

This is a huge topic.

1 Erant autem appropinquantes ei omnes publicani et pec catores, ut audirent illum.

2 Et murmurabant pharisaei et scribae dicentes: “Hic peccatores recipit et manducat cum illis”.

3 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην λέγων,

4 Τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ ἀπολέσας ἐξ αὐτῶν ἓν οὐ καταλείπει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ πορεύεται ἐπὶ τὸ ἀπολωλὸς ἕως εὕρῃ αὐτό;

He said to them this parable, saying (4) “What person of you having one hundred sheep and losing of them (a single) one does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and seek upon the lost one until he may find it?

Have to pause a moment for a couple of minor issues. The first is verb tense. “Which of you does not leave…until he may find…” The tense of the first is present indicative active. IOW, standard present tense. In English, we would be more apt to say, “which of you would not leave…” That is subjunctive to express unreality or uncertainty that such a thing has or will happen. The second, “may find”, is a subjunctive and has been rendered as such here. The point is that Greek verb tenses do not always translate one-for-one into English. There are frequently times when the tenses within the narrative are inconsistent, switching back and forth between present and aorist. There are rules about this…sort of. The purpose of all of this is to be careful when someone starts lecturing on how the verb is an aorist and uses this as justification to trot out a whole bunch of implications. Be very wary of any conclusions about meaning based on a disquisition of an aorist tense.

The second point is the word “wilderness”. This is the word used of the Baptist to tell us he was “in the wilderness”. The root is “herm–“, as in “hermit”. The first Christian hermits lived in the wilderness. The base meaning in Greek is “alone”. The “lone individual lived an alone life in a lonely place”. Translated: “the hermit lived a solitary life in the wilderness”. Aside from the KJV, all my crib translations render this as “open pasture” or something such. In our world, “pasture” has certain connotations that are wholly lacking in the Greek word. The point is that there was a lot of empty space between towns or settlements, and it was common practice to take your herd into this empty space. This is the sort of historical information that a text like the NT can provide very reliably because it’s so inadvertent. This is why we can discuss things like whether Jesus was a collaborator with the Romans. Or, if he was seen as something along those lines by some of the Jews. 

3 Et ait ad illos parabolam istam dicens:

4 “Quis ex vobis homo, qui habet centum oves et si perdiderit unam ex illis, nonne dimittit nonaginta novem in deserto et vadit ad illam, quae perierat, donec inveniat illam?

5 καὶ εὑρὼν ἐπιτίθησιν ἐπὶ τοὺς ὤμους αὐτοῦ χαίρων,

6 καὶ ἐλθὼν εἰς τὸν οἶκον συγκαλεῖ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς γείτονας λέγων αὐτοῖς, Συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὸ πρόβατόν μου τὸ ἀπολωλός.

7 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὕτως χαρὰ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἔσται ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι ἢ ἐπὶ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα δικαίοις οἵτινες οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν μετανοίας.

“And finding, he places it on his shoulders rejoicing, (6) and coming home he calls together his friends and relatives saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, that I have found the sheep having been lost’. (7) I say to you that in this way there will be rejoicing in the sky upon the sinner having repented than upon the 99 just ones who did not need repentance”.

Take a look at the Latin below and note the bolded words. They literally mean “doing penance”. This is a very different concept than the meaning of the Greek, which is to “repent”. The same distinction between the Latin and the Greek occurs very famously in Mark 1:15. There, in the Greek, the Baptist/Dunker calls on those hearing to “repent” or to “be penitent”. In the Latin, he calls upon them to “do/make penance”. This distinction in translation had serious implications for the development of the Western Church that read the NT in Latin. This translation into Latin led to the Catholic doctrine of Penance, of doing penance assigned in Confession. When Erasmus went back to the Greek in the 15th Century and corrected the translation, changing it from a noun to a verb, this had a major impact on Martin Luther. Recall that Luther was incensed about the practice of selling indulgences, which were a means of lessening the amount of penance that had to be done to atone for one’s sins. In Luther’s mind, there was no way one could keep up with the ongoing demands of doing penance for the constant stream of sins one committed. However, if the injunction was to repent, or to be repentant, then the whole equation changed. Overall, the development of the Church in the West had a lot to do with the Latin, rather than the Greek, NT. It’s a very different set of concepts. That the Church discussed the doctrine of gratia rather than charis had significant influence on the doctrine, since charis lacks the connotation of “free” that exist in the Latin gratia. And too, the Greek word “logos” has very different lexical field than the Latin word verbum. Language matters. To my mind, it’s not surprising that the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches occurred; the remarkable part is that they held together as long as they did. And even then, the final rupture was as much political as it was religious, or doctrinal.

Upon my first reading, the question of what “happened” to the lost sheep that is found again rose in my mind. How are we to understand the concepts of  being “lost”, and then being “found”? The awesome hymn Amazing Grace provides wonderful insight into the meanings of these words, but the song was written nearly two millennia later. It describes how we view being “lost” and “found”. Part of the purpose of this blog is to determine what the author may have meant when using the terms. Of course, the answer is, seemingly, provided in the last verse where Luke talks about rejoicing in the sky. Of course, “sky” is the immediate meaning of the word, which Christians will translate as “heaven”, or even “Heaven”; however, it’s always good to remind ourselves of what the Greek word used actually means. In this case, “heaven” is legitimate as it was used in that sense since the time of Homer, just as we use the term “the heavens” to mean simply the sky. Presumably the rejoicing in heaven will include the rejoicing of the father who is in the sky. So presumably, we are to understand “lost” and “found” in the sense that the awesome hymn Amazing Grace uses the terms. Or can we?

That degree of uncertainty is exactly the point. We think we know. We may think it’s blindingly obvious. But it’s really not. The lost sheep has been found, and it has reunited with the flock; but where? In heaven? Or on earth? The Jewish conception of salvation was corporate; the Chosen People; the flock, not the individual, and not necessarily in an afterlife. So a return to that corporate body would be a cause for rejoicing by the denizens of heaven, but that would have been true in Jewish thought several hundred years earlier, too. What has changed here? Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps the salvation of the individual was just assumed by this point. One thing that we must constantly remember when we read these texts is that we’re reading them. For the most part, Luke’s audience would not have done that. They would have listened, while someone else read. Then there likely would have been a follow-up discussion, perhaps including a Q&A period. That’s largely how learning worked, even through the Middle Ages, at the newly-founded universities. The Master read aloud and then the students discussed under the guidance of the Master. In both cases, there would have been additional exposition on the text. This is where the Catholics were horrified by the idea of vernacular Bibles, because then just anyone could read the thing without having the guidance of a learned teacher who understood what was “really” meant. This is why the Catholics insisted on the validity of The Tradition. These were the lessons handed down by Augustine and Tertullian and Clement, who, as Bishop of Rome, theoretically got it, ultimately, from Peter. The line of succession was Peter, Linus, (Ana)Cletus, Clement…The this was recited every Sunday during the Consecration part of the Mass. It’s interesting because I was having a FaceBook discussion with a friend I’ve never met about the number of times Jesus spoke of being saved, in the common, modern sense. I rattled off a few cites, and then mentioned a few more where it was understood. This was one of the examples I used. The thing is, I hadn’t translated and commented on this section fully, so I may have jumped to some unwarranted conclusions. 

So, what do we know? If by know, we mean as a certainty, the answer is all too often ‘not as much as we think’. The Protestants who rejected the tradition in favor of individual inspiration probably retained more of that tradition than they realized or intended.

We’ll come back to this shortly, when we get to the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is coming up shortly.

5 Et cum invenerit eam, imponit in umeros suos gaudens

6 et veniens domum convocat amicos et vicinos dicens illis: “Congratulamini mihi, quia inveni ovem meam, quae perierat”.

7 Dico vobis: Ita gaudium erit in caelo super uno peccatore paenitentiam agente quam super nonaginta novem iustis, qui non indigent paenitentia.

8 Ἢ τίς γυνὴ δραχμὰς ἔχουσα δέκα, ἐὰν ἀπολέσῃ δραχμὴν μίαν, οὐχὶ ἅπτει λύχνον καὶ σαροῖ τὴν οἰκίαν καὶ ζητεῖ ἐπιμελῶς ἕως οὗ εὕρῃ;

9 καὶ εὑροῦσα συγκαλεῖ τὰς φίλας καὶ γείτονας λέγουσα, Συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὴν δραχμὴν ἣν ἀπώλεσα.

10 οὕτως, λέγω ὑμῖν, γίνεται χαρὰ ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀγγέλων τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι.

Or a certain woman having ten drachmas, if she should lose a single drachma, will she not light a lamp and sweep the house and search diligently until she found it? (9) And having found it, she calls her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, that I found the drachma that I lost’. (10) Thus, I say to you, be happy before the messengers of the lord upon one sinner having repented.

A couple of things. First, up until this point, I haven’t been as punctilious about getting the verb tenses to agree with the Greek. Shame on me, especially when I want to help new learners. Second, the word for “lighting”, as in “lighting a lamp” is aptō; perhaps the root of “apt” is apparent.

But the other thing is that this is where I’m supposed to tell you what a drachma was worth. My apologies, but my sense of currency exchange is lacking for this time and place. I do know that in Classical Athens, two obols was considered a day’s wages, and that there were ten obols in a drachma. Based on that rate, a drachma would represent a week’s wages– assuming a modern five-day week, which is simply anachronistic. The five-day week did not become the norm until the early 20th Century. Still, it was a decent amount of money; as a single sheep represented a decent amount of money. So in both cases, there was ample reason for the one having lost either to search. If you lost $100 USD bill, you would spend some time looking for it. And $100 USD would probably not buy you a sheep in today’s money. 

The minor economics lesson aside, the point is that, in either case, an individual sinner is worth a substantial amount to the denizens of heaven.

Now on to the Prodigal Son.

8 Aut quae mulier habens drachmas decem, si perdiderit drachmam unam, nonne accendit lucernam et everrit domum et quaerit diligenter, donec inveniat?

9 Et cum invenerit, convocat amicas et vicinas dicens: ‘Congratulamini mihi, quia inveni drachmam, quam perdideram’.

10 Ita dico vobis: Gaudium fit coram angelis Dei super uno peccatore paenitentiam agente”.

* Matthew: the Slaughter of the Innocents is not historical. Something this heinous would have left some mark in the historical record. Luke: that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census– which seems to have a pretty solid basis in history. The idea that people had to uproot themselves from their occupations and return to an ancestral home from centuries before is patently absurd on its own merits. Plus, once again, there is no historical corroboration.

Addendum: Summary Matthew Chapter 15

Having just come across something extraordinary in my reading, it seemed necessary to add this piece to the summary of Chapter 15. By coincidence, I ran across this right after finishing the section relevant to this discovery.

As mentioned, I’m reading Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels. In this book, Boyarin makes the argument that the [divine + human] components of the Christ/Messiah belief that we find in the NT regarding Jesus had actually been put together by the Jews as well, and perhaps this complex was in place before Jesus began to teach. In other words, he’s suggesting that the followers of Jesus took over, rather than invented, the idea of the divinely human Christ. He bases this conclusion on his reading of the Similitudes of 1 Enoch and the text of 4 Ezra. These are apocryphal texts, written around the time of Jesus by Jews, but they are not considered to be part of the canon of either the Hebrew or the Christian Scriptures. The key text that inspired both of these works is the Book of Daniel, particularly Chapter 7, with its description of the Ancient of Days and “one like a son of man”. He reads this to mean that the Son of Man was actually a divine figure in Jewish thought, not at all the human anointed one to be humanly descended from the human David.

It’s an interesting thesis, and it has some merit, even if it has some drawbacks. Overall, I don’t necessarily disagree with him. Daniel is a late work, dating to the period of Seleucid rule in Israel/Palestine/Judea. That is, it was written after the career of Alexander, who was purported to be a semi-divine royal figure. As such, he provides a really good paradigm for a semi-, or divine royal figure who could restore the empire of David by driving the heathen from the sacred land of Israel and Judah. Boyarin insists that the so-called High Christology, in which Jesus was seen as divine, was also a Jewish idea, or was as much a Jewish idea as it was a pagan idea as is usually thought. Boyarin may well be correct to argue that the idea of a divine Son of Man had entered into Jewish thought prior to Jesus’ life and career, but the point remains that the origin of this new concept was probably still Greek. Boyarin talks about a much earlier bifurcation between El and YHWH; this is an intriguing thought, that there was a latent binitarianism (as he calls it) in which there was not one God, but two. And ancient mythology is replete with such twinnings: El and Marduk and then Assur, Chronos and Zeus, etc. In these myths a younger god overthrows and supersedes an older one. Such is how Boyarin reads Daniel 7: the Son of Man is to be seen as superseding–if not necessarily overthrowing–the Ancient of Days.

It’s all very fascinating, but it really doesn’t tell us anything new about Jesus, his followers, and how he came to be perceived, understood, and described by the proto- and then Christian assemblies. It merely pushes the identification of the divine human back a century or two. The idea that the “Son of Man” is divine, however, is relevant, and that will be discussed next time that title is encountered.

But that’s not the purpose of this addendum.

Rather, it has to do with the first story we found in Chapter 15. This is where Jesus seemingly abrogates the Jewish dietary laws by claiming that nothing that goes into a person defiles that person. Now technically, Boyarin is discussing this trope as found in Mark, but that is completely irrelevant. Matthew follows Mark explicitly, and it’s the same information.

As with his position on the Son of Man, Boyarin has a well considered, ably argued position on whether Jesus did, in fact, suggest a break with Jewish law. More, as a scholar of the HS, he has a very deep understanding of the background, of the milieu in which Jesus lived. He understands what being Jewish at the time was probably like. The result is an incredibly nuanced, but apparently very solid explanation of what happened in Mark 7 & Matthew 15. According to Boyarin, the Pharisees represented something of a new movement in Judaism. They had started taking the laws of purity to ever-greater lengths. In the process, they had come adrift from what the Torah actually said, substituting actual Torah for the customs of the elders. Hence Jesus’ condemnation that they had forgotten the laws of God, and now followed the laws of men. IOW, the Pharisees were innovators, insisting on a level of ritual purity not found in Torah. They were educated, and primarily urban. Jesus, OTOH, not the radical innovator; rather he was a conservative from rural Galilee, who was fighting to preserve Torah against the new-fangled innovations of the Pharisees. That is, far from being the one breaking the law, Jesus is arguing to retain it against the new rules like washing of hands.

That sort of turns the argument on its head, doesn’t it?

In addition, Boyarin says that Jesus was making a distinction between unclean and impure. Pigs are unclean, in every circumstance. There are no conditions that would warrant eating pig aside from, say, danger of starvation and such extreme conditions. However, an animal that is clean–such as a cow or sheep–can become impure, defiled by the way it’s handled, or by mixing it with milk products. Jesus and the Pharisees were not debating about clean vs. unclean; they were arguing about conditions that made clean food impure. The Pharisees had begun a programme in which the conditions for impurity expanded. One way a clean animal can be made impure is contact with human excreta, or other bodily fluids. This is part of what is behind Jesus’ pronouncement about “it is what comes out” of the person that defiles that person. Yes, there was a metaphorical element as well, but Jesus also meant this as a purely practical injunction.

Now, I am not in the least qualified to judge this argument on its merits. I’m scarcely able to do the argument justice in condensation and paraphrase. It sounds good, it appears sound, but outward appearance can be deceiving.

The real point of this is that, as with the Son of Man, we have a possible explanation that contravenes about 2,000 years worth of Christian interpretation. More, as far as I can tell, Boyarin’s argument is novel; I don’t know the bibliography, I cannot judge his sources, but he is writing as if this is his thesis, rather than something that’s been out there for any length of time. As such, I always want to stop and ask: What? Two thousand years later, and now someone figures this out? But then I stop and think, Well, I’m suggesting that Matthew began life as a pagan, rather than a Jew. That’s not exactly part of mainstream interpretation, either. Of course, it may be that both Boyarin’s interpretation and my hypothesis have been suggested before, but they were not taken seriously by the scholarly community, so they withered on the vine without producing any seeds that could sprout.

Aside from that, what Boyarin does is to demonstrate how fragile so many of our ideas and understandings are. We think we know what something means, but that’s only because we’ve stopped–or never started–questioning first assumptions. We’ve accepted that matters are settled, and gone our merry way. Like Wile E Coyote, we’ve never stopped to look down to see whether we’re on solid ground, or if we’re actually walking on thin air. We haven’t done this because it’s never occurred to anyone that we should question the writings qua writings. We have accepted that they form an integrated whole, a unitary whole; sure, we can tinker around the edges on grace or transubstantiation or predestination, but the basic message needs no explanation because it’s true. Make that True. This is the attitude of people of faith who come at these problems. And I would include Bart Ehrman in this camp. Yes, he is now agnostic, but his basic views were formulated as a person of faith, and I don’t think he’s quite overcome that. Most NT scholars come from a background of Divinity. This is the mindset that simply assumed the HS story of David and the unified kingdom and the course of history as set out in Joshua and Samuel and Kings was accurate in general outline. This attitude carried through until the last twenty years.

And so we come to our understanding of Mark 7. Boyarin claims that the standard interpretation of this text is that Jesus did indeed abrogate the dietary laws. I cannot vouch for this personally, being too unfamiliar with the literature. The result, of this lack of questioning, or lack of background in Judaic studies is that:

“…according to the traditional interpretation and virtually all modern scholarly ones, in [Mark 7] Jesus declares a major aspect of Torah’s laws, the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher), no longer valid, thus representing a major rupture with the beliefs and practices of virtually all other Jews, pharisaic or not.” [The Jewish Gospels, pg. 107]

He is stating that the “representatives of what are arguably the three most central and important scholarly biblical commentary series in the United States” agree on this and almost nothing else” (emphasis mine). They agree that, in Mark 7, Jesus makes a serious–to the point of fatal–break with Jewish tradition by declaring the dietary laws null and void. IOW, all serious schools of NT study interpret Mark 7–or Matthew 15–to mean that Jesus purposefully and consciously broke with his Jewish background. One could argue that this could very well be the founding moment of Christianity, when it broke decisively with its Jewish background. But we need to ask ourselves what the basis is for this general consensus on Mark 7. Have scholars actually examined the assumptions on which this modern interpretation rests?

I tend to suspect not.

Why not? We discussed this in the commentary on the chapter. I have pointed it out at least in two other instances. In his own words, a full two decades (give or take) before Mark wrote his Chapter 7, Paul told us that he and James had an argument on this very topic. In Acts, written perhaps two decades after Mark wrote his Chapter 7, Peter has a dream telling him that all animals are edible. IOW, this issue was still being contended decades after the fact. All of which means that the likelihood that Jesus made any decisive break with Jewish dietary laws extremely unlikely. In fact, the probability of Jesus making such a pronouncement approaches zero. That is to say, the events of Mark Chapter 7, or Matthew Chapter 15 did not happen.

So what does all of this mean? Several things. The first is that too much of the scholarship of the NT–or the Bible as a whole–is not based on firm principles of historical research. In the NT, this problem is compounded by scholars who start with Mark, and not with Paul. For all his erudition, and all of his knowledge of the Judaic context of Jesus, Boyarin falls completely into this trap. He jumps right in to Mark, the earliest gospel, without ever stopping to consider that he should start with the earliest texts, to see what the (proto-)Christian context was for Mark. But Boyarin is hardly alone. Most all of the research I’ve read on the quest for the historical Jesus, or the arguments for Q, approach their subject as if Mark was the beginning of it all. It’s an easy trap to fall into. Paul predates Mark by decades, but Paul doesn’t talk about the historical Jesus–he barely mentions him. Instead, he focuses his attention on the Risen Christ. So, when questing for the Questing Beast, er, the historical Jesus, too many scholars more or less ignore historical records that are decades closer to the actual events. They prefer to follow documents that have already begun to report the legend and not the history. As someone trained in history, I’m just kind of surprised at this behavior. It just seems bizarre, not to mention flat wrong because it simply warps the evidence too much.

So far, this has been a fairly straightforward critique of the failure to use proper historical method. But let’s change gears and direction and introduce a clever bit on my part. To do this, we return to Boyarin’s hypothesis about what Mark says in Chapter 7. In the course of setting forth his argument, Boyarin mentions something that I had not heard suggested ever before, that Mark was not Jewish. I found this surprising, but he quickly squelches this possibility by presenting a strong case to the contrary by suggesting that Mark is making a very subtle distinction, finessing the discussion to a nuanced correction of the practices of the Pharisees, while not actually disturbing the dietary laws. In Boyarin’s opinion, this shows a grasp of the topic that would probably have been outside the capability of a non-Jew. Boyarin can stop there. He is only concerned with whether Mark’s Jesus does, or does not, abrogate the dietary laws as they existed in the First Century. Once he has demonstrated that Jesus has not (as he is convinced he has done), he drops the topic and moves on. Fine. But we need to take this a step further. We need to ask why Mark felt the need to present this very subtle argument in support of the dietary laws.

Why indeed?

Part of the question must rest on whether we assume that Mark knew about the Pauline corpus. On general principles, this seems unlikely, but certainly not impossible. Regardless, by the time Mark wrote, there were assemblies of pagan converts that were decades old. These assemblies, founded perhaps by Paul and Paul’s acolytes–such as Titus the Greek–would have been breaking the dietary laws for most–if not all–of their existence. And yet the author of Acts still feels the need to reinforce the right to abrogate them by reporting Peter’s dream abolishing unclean animals. Just as Peter’s dream demonstrates that Jesus had not made a pronouncement on this, the need to reinforce that it was acceptable to eat pork shows that there were still those who resisted this practice. If they existed in the 90s, when Luke/Acts was written, they likely existed in the 70s, when Mark was written.  So here’s the clever bit: was Mark 7 written as an attempt to compromise between the two practices that were mutually contradictory? Did he come up with this subtle method to explain, if not fully reconcile, the two traditions?

I think this needs to be considered. For two thousand years, former pagans have read Mark 7 as a way of approving the eating of pork, etc. Former pagans likely were not overly concerned with the differences between the law of Torah and the innovations the Pharisees were attempting to introduce, or to make standard. So pagans could go about their way, understanding Mark 7 to mean they were justified in their non-adherence to the Law. Former Jews, OTOH, like James, brother of the Lord, could take heart that this was not what Jesus actually said. (Yes, James was ten years dead when Mark wrote, but he still serves as a great example for the point.) Yes, this is clever on my part. No, this isn’t proven. And yes, this cannot be proven. But it should, at the very least, be considered, and discussed. There’s a lot more going on here than has been understood for too long. The idea that the NT told a unified story has held the field for too long, and cut off too many avenues of debate. We need to stop thinking in those terms and coming to appreciate the layers and the subtleties buried–and not always deeply–in the text. In short, we need to read the text as a text, and not as a Pronouncement.


Summary Matthew Chapter 15

This chapter consists of three distinct stories. The first culminates with Jesus proclaiming that it is what comes out of a person that defiles him or her, not what goes in. The second is the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who is now described as a Canaanite. Finally, we have the Feeding of the Four Thousand.

The last will come first because, overall, it’s the least significant of the three. I have given my reasons to suspect that this is really just a twin of the 5,000. When I took a look at the chapter as a whole, the “oh, by the way” manner in which it’s handled only reinforces this idea. The story was too well-attested that Matthew, nor Mark before him, felt able to omit it, but Matthew certainly did give it short shrift. There is nothing to distinguish it from the first, except for the minor details of the number fed, the fact that there was a little fish to be distributed, and the number of baskets filled after everyone was satiated. The set-up, the setting, even the end where Jesus leaves by boat are virtually identical to the previous version of the story.

So what does this tell us? As mentioned, it indicates a strong tradition of two feeding stories. Both were well entrenched in the corpus of Jesus stories as they came down to Mark, and through Mark to Matthew. In turn, this indicates the existence of two separate groups of Jesus followers who told stories about Jesus, but neither group was aware of the other. The idea of this happening, of there being two distinct groups is something we’ve inferred for a long time now. The two feeding stories, I think, is as close to proof of this thesis as we will ever get. Really, the fact that we can, more or less, “prove” two groups is probably a good indication that there were many more. We discussed this this with Mark, and with reference to “The Life Of Brian” with it’s “Blessed are the cheese makers” routine. Presumably Jesus spoke to many people over the course of his public ministry; he may not have spoken to as many as Mark would have us believe, but it would have been substantial. And think about a setting like the Sermon on the Mount, or even these feeding stories. In them, Jesus teaches a large crowd, or even a significant crowd of a few hundred persons. These may include groups of people from different villages; upon dispersal, each went back to its native village and told other people about what they heard. Different groups would have heard or remembered different things. So, especially in the early days, there are many, many threads of Jesus lore. Over time, some of the groups coalesced, but some more quickly than others. Groups in more distant places remained isolated longer, but the threads eventually twisted into strings, which got twisted together into cables. Mark was the first to attempt to create a cable. Matthew followed suit because he felt that Mark had not told the whole story. We will come back to that, probably in a special topic entry.

The significance of the Canaanite woman is that she represents Jesus’ outreach to pagans, and the way pagans responded with strong faith. Her belief contrasts to Peter of little faith at the end of Chapter 14. This is meant to indicate that Jesus preached to pagans, and that pagans may, at least in some instances, have stronger faith than the children of Israel. Of course the story never happened; this is a clear case of invention after the fact, meant to give Jesus’ seal of approval to the pagan ministry begun by Paul. In fact, this story is actually (at least, it may be) the punchline to the previous story about defilement. And these two form the climax to the last part of Chapter 14 when Peter walked on the water; or, he did until he lost his faith in his ability to do so. Ergo, Jesus rebukes Peter as one of little faith. This is one of the few times that Matthew has Jesus speaking sharply to Peter, or any of the disciples. As such, I think it’s inclusion is very significant. We have Peter, the prominent disciple, the initial follower, lacking faith. Does he represent Israel as a whole? The first to experience Jesus’ message? And he doesn’t believe. Instead, what Israel does is turn into the Pharisees of the first part of Chapter 15. They are very concerned with washing hands, and such outward actions. But they will give to the Temple, declare something ‘corban’ rather than use it to help their elderly parents who have fallen on hard times. They are concerned with defilement from without.

It should be noted that ritual pollution was a very common notion among all peoples up to a certain point in time. It was a big deal for the Greeks. Unburied corpses were a horror to them, just as they were for the Jews. So the Pharisees’ reaction is typical of the earlier traditions. Acts had to be performed in certain ways in order to be pleasing to the gods. This is part of the rationale used by a professional priest-caste to justify their existence, and to demand that they be supported by the labor of others. But in this story of defilement, Jesus overturns the tables of the money-changers. It is not what is without that matters; it is what is within. To some degree, this is the final step in the transition from shame culture to guilt culture. The former emphasizes form, the outward act, while the latter is about the inward person, the inner self. So in this section of the chapter–or the story–we get Peter’s little faith followed by the Pharisees’ nitpicking about the rules of humans, and not of God. Then comes the clincher: without ever saying so, Jesus torpedoes a good-sized chunk of Mosaic Law. Leviticus gives us a list of stuff that the children of Israel are not to eat; Jesus says this doesn’t matter. In other words, it’s acceptable to eat like a pagan.

Then we get to the climax of this three-part tale. Jesus goes to the territory of Sidon & Tyre. The purpose of the trip is to visit his biological father, Pantera, who was from Sidon, and was soon to ship out to Germany, where he would die and his funeral stele would be found almost two thousand years later. At least, that’s what James Tabor would have us believe. Color me skeptical. The fact is, we don’t know why Jesus went to Sidon & Tyre, because it’s entirely possible that he never did so. There are only a few stories of Jesus interacting with pagans; so far, we’ve had the people living around the Gerasene demonaic (they herded pigs), the centurion, and now this Canaanite woman. The first group is window dressing. Both the centurion and this Canaanite woman, however, serve as examples of the strength of faith among pagans. And in this chapter the woman, the pagan woman, shows up Peter and the Pharisees, the cream of the disciples and the cream of Jewish religious culture–according to Paul, anyway. And so it is. The torch has been passed from the children of Israel to the children of all those other gods that the followers of YHWH despised so mightily. As such, this is a very significant chapter indeed. The history of the development of the Jesus followers into Christians has taken a very big step as it has, in some ways, superseded its Jewish roots and moved out into the broader world of the pagans. This is, of course, where its future would lie.

And perhaps here is the real motive behind calling her a Canaanite instead of Syro-Phoenician. The early books of the Hebrew Scriptures is full of the conflict between Israel (and Israel as a whole as well as Israel without Judah) and the Canaanites. Many of Israel’s greatest victories and Israel’s greatest defeats were over, or at the hands of the Canaanites. True, the greatest defeat was wrought by the Assyrians, but the Assyrians were obvious enemies, and against them the Israelites could only fight. There was no negotiating, nor any fraternizing. The Assyrians were simply implacable. The Canaanites, on the other hand were more insidious, and in some ways posed the greater danger, for the Canaanites were the enemy within. The Israelites married Canaanite women and worshipped Canaanite gods, neglecting the cult of YHWH as they did so. They were seductive and welcoming and much harder to fight. Eventually, on the battlefield, Israel, perhaps, got the better of the Canaanites. But here in Chapter 15, the Canaanites got their revenge, taking the place of the Israelites in service to the One True God and to Jesus the Christ. Is that why Matthew chose to call the woman a Canaanite? Was Matthew of Canaanite heritage? Was he born into a family that worshipped Dagon, or Ba’al, or one of those despised Canaanite gods? Interesting question, is it not?

Matthew Chapter 15:29-39 (conclusion)

This post will conclude Chapter 15. I don’t expect this will require a lot of time* since it’s the Feeding of the 4,000, and we just had the Feeding of the 5,000 last chapter. I have never quite understood why both of these stories were retained. They obviously represent a ‘twinning’ of the same event that came down to Mark through two distinct channels. This happens fairly frequently in oral traditions; there are a number of such twins, for example, in Book I of Livy’s History of Rome. What this twinning represents is the same story being told by two different groups that are not in contact with each other. As a result, the details vary to some degree, and when they are collected together, the author compiling the two traditions can’t decide which is the correct–or more correct–version, so both are included. Such is what happened here, I suspect.

*Of course, it took rather longer than I’d anticipated. Oh well.

29 Καὶ μεταβὰς ἐκεῖθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἦλθεν παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ ἀναβὰς εἰς τὸ ὄρος ἐκάθητο ἐκεῖ.

And having crossed from there, Jesus came along the Sea of Galilee and having gone up the mountain he sat himself there.

This starts much as the 5,000 did: Jesus crossing the sea, then going up the mountain. This opening helps bolster the argument that this is a twinning of one event, since they both start with the same concept. The difference here is that Matthew doesn’t go out of his way to stress just how lonely and desolate and isolated this location is. Recall how he did that in his lead-up to the feeding of the 5,000.

29 Et cum transisset inde, Iesus venit secus mare Galilaeae et ascendens in montem sedebat ibi.

30 καὶ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοὶ ἔχοντες μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν χωλούς, τυφλούς, κυλλούς, κωφούς, καὶ ἑτέρους πολλούς, καὶ ἔρριψαν αὐτοὺς παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτούς:

31 ὥστε τὸν ὄχλον θαυμάσαι βλέποντας κωφοὺς λαλοῦντας, κυλλοὺς ὑγιεῖς, καὶ χωλοὺς περιπατοῦντας καὶ τυφλοὺς βλέποντας: καὶ ἐδόξασαν τὸν θεὸν Ἰσραήλ.

And came to him a multitudinous crown having with them lame, blind, maimed, mute, and many others, and they cast themselves down by his feet, and he healed them, (31) so that to amaze the crowd seeing the mute speaking, the maimed whole, and the lame walking about, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.

This is a significant passage, I think. Mark does not include this in either of his Feeding stories. Why does Matthew add it? On the one hand, put here the way it is, the story gets a little lost in the shuffle. On the other, it gets paired with the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman, so we have back-to-back wonders being worked. As I look at this, and consider Mark in relationship to Matthew, I am becoming more convinced that the baseline story of Jesus was about him as a wonder-worker. We noted that those are the stories that take up the first half of Mark’s gospel, and that they only give way to the Christ tradition sometime after Chapter 8. Or we could say that we start this in earnest with the story of the Transfiguration in Chapter 9. That is when Jesus more or less stops working wonders and becomes a divine figure.

Here in Matthew, OTOH, the miracles get short-shrift. The stories are shorter, more cursory, including summaries like we get here. Yes, those are present in Mark, too, but I think that we’ve gotten a higher proportion of summaries here in Matthew. What does this mean? Well, I think it’s another blow to the Q theory. The Q proponents would have us believe that Jesus’ teachings were the fundamental story that was told about him after his death. The wonder-worker thesis contradicts that directly, claiming that the miracles were the basis for retelling Jesus’ story. And yet, it was the Christ tradition that Paul stressed, and I don’t believe Paul even mentions Jesus performing any wonders. Even in the Great Miracle of the resurrection, Jesus was a passive object, who was raised from the dead by God. Jesus didn’t do this by himself, because he was God, but God intervened and performed the act. But this gets us back to the James/Paul dichotomy. Paul was preaching outside Judea, mostly to pagans. James was preaching in Judea, in Jerusalem, presumably to Jews. Did they have different messages? Or perhaps different emphases? Remember the “other gospels” of 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians. 

Since Paul was preaching to pagans and stressing the Christ tradition, and Matthew stressed the Christ tradition, is this possibly (more) evidence that Matthew was a pagan?

Did anyone catch the non-sequitur in that last question? The connection between the Christ tradition and pagans made a lot of sense when I wrote it. The connection was absolutely clear and firm in my mind. Now…not so much. If anyone is familiar with Jacques Derrida and Deconstructionism, IIRC this is what is meant by “slippage” between thoughts and writing. The former is a solid connection; we know what we mean when we say it. But once it gets into that email…man, it could be taken a dozen different ways, and most of them bad. While I never quite went the distance with Derrida, he did make it very difficult to argue there is a single correct interpretation, and that even the author may not have been fully aware of the implications. And that is true: think of the unfortunate email you sent to your boss, or a colleague, or a friend that got completely misconstrued. No, that wasn’t what you meant, but it sure could be taken that way.

The point is, we have to ask if the Christ message was more acceptable to pagans. In particular, we have to ask if Jesus-as-divine wasn’t more acceptable to pagans. I’ve made this point previously; the divine god-on-earth, a son of a god was a familiar concept to pagans. It was mostly–if perhaps not entirely–foreign to Jewish thought. I say “mostly” for a reason. I’m reading The Jewish Gospel by Daniel Boyarin, who is a Jewish scholar, expert on the HS. He points out that the so-called “High Christology”, in which Jesus was seen as divine has been seen as a pagan formulation. In the centuries after Jesus, Jews also pressed this interpretation as a disparagement, that Christianity was more pagan than Jewish. The “Low Christology”, in which Jesus was seen as a human has been seen as an outgrowth of Judaism. And this division is more or less my point. As one more versed in pagan lore than the NT, I see the footprints of pagan thought all over the place in Jesus’ teachings; whether they date back to Jesus, or were layered on afterwards, is another discussion. Boyarin isn’t quite so sure. He argues that the “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7 was understood as a divine being, not a human by Jews of the time. However, the point remains that even Jews of the Second and Third Centuries saw the pagan elements of Christianity. Ergo, I’m not completely beyond the Pale on this.

Still, the question remains of proving that stressing pagan sensibilities indicates that Matthew was a pagan. Of course it doesn’t. But once again, we’re in the realm of preponderance of evidence. “Matthew” (whatever the author’s real name was) could have been in the tradition of Paul, emphasizing the Christ. But Paul didn’t take the next step and deify Jesus before the crucifixion. Matthew does. Mark didn’t. It could be a “logical” progression. But what makes it logical? The evolution of the idea in a pagan context, in which gods sired children who walked the earth. This is not at all so logical in a Jewish context. So I think that, in the end, it comes down to whether one believes it’s more likely that Matthew was a Jew who became paganized, or a pagan who studied Judaism as a God-fearer? I’m still going with the latter. 

30 Et accesserunt ad eum turbae multae habentes secum claudos, caecos, debiles, mutos et alios multos et proiecerunt eos ad pedes eius, et curavit eos,

31 ita ut turba miraretur videntes mutos loquentes, debiles sanos et claudos ambulantes et caecos videntes. Et magnificabant Deum Israel.

32 Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς προσκαλεσάμενος τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν, Σπλαγχνίζομαι ἐπὶ τὸν ὄχλον, ὅτι ἤδη ἡμέραι τρεῖς προσμένουσίν μοι καὶ οὐκ ἔχουσιν τί φάγωσιν: καὶ ἀπολῦσαι αὐτοὺς νήστεις οὐ θέλω, μήποτε ἐκλυθῶσιν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ.

Jesus having called to him his disciples said, “I have compassion upon the crowd, that already three days they have followed me and they have nothing to eat.  And to disperse them fasting I do not wish, lest they faint on the road.”

First, I want to know where the three days of following came from. I do not at all get that impression from the text here. But it is in Mark, so there’s my answer. And the last bit about not wanting them to faint on the road is also in Mark.

Second, I read some of the commentaries on this at Several of them fall all over themselves to insist that this is not a mere replication of the 5,000. They cite the different vocabularies and other such; of course, they’re right. The vocabularies are different, even if the set-up is very similar. But that is precisely how twins are formed. They start from the same event, or account of an event, and then the story takes divergent paths for a few years, or a decade. Then they each come to the ear of a single person who is interested in writing the stories down–like Mark–and they are different enough to be judged different events.

32 Iesus autem convocatis discipulis suis dixit: “Misereor turbae, quia triduo iam perseverant mecum et non habent, quod manducent; et dimittere eos ieiunos nolo, ne forte deficiant in via”.

33 καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταί, Πόθεν ἡμῖν ἐν ἐρημίᾳ ἄρτοι τοσοῦτοι ὥστε χορτάσαι ὄχλον τοσοῦτον;

34 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Πόσους ἄρτους ἔχετε; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Ἑπτά, καὶ ὀλίγα ἰχθύδια.

And the disciples said to him, “Where for us in this lonely place is so much bread so that to feed such a crowd?” (34) And said to them Jesus, “How many loaves do you have?” Then they said, “Seven, and a little of fish.”  

Ah, those disciples. The ever-ready straight-men who always serve up the verbal softball to set Jesus up to knock it out of the park. (Note: “straight man” is an old Vaudeville term. In a comedy duo, the straight man’s job was to deliver the set-up line so that the other partner could deliver the punchline and get the laughs.) That aside, notice that we’re suddenly back in that lonely, desolate place, just as we were in the Feeding 5,000. Finally, the word for “bread” and “loaf” is the same word. It’s one of those circumstances where “loaf” came to mean “of bread” and nothing else. Sort of like, “a cuppa”, as in, “do you want a cuppa” is understood to mean “cuppa tea”, and not “cuppa juice” or anything else.

33 Et dicunt ei discipuli: “ Unde nobis in deserto panes tantos, ut saturemus turbam tantam?”.

34 Et ait illis Iesus: “Quot panes habetis? ”. At illi dixerunt: “Septem et paucos pisciculos”.

35 καὶ παραγγείλας τῷ ὄχλῳ ἀναπεσεῖν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν.

And he announced to the crowd to sit on the ground. 

Notice this time there isn’t any grass.

35 Et praecepit turbae, ut discumberet super terram;

36 ἔλαβεν τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἄρτους καὶ τοὺς ἰχθύας καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἐδίδου τοῖς μαθηταῖς, οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶτοῖς ὄχλοις.

37 καὶ ἔφαγον πάντες καὶ ἐχορτάσθησαν, καὶ τὸ περισσεῦον τῶν κλασμάτων ἦραν, ἑπτὰ σπυρίδας πλήρεις.

And he took the seven loaves, and the fish, and having blessed (them) he broke (them) and gave to the disciples, and the disciples to the crowd (gave to the crowd). (37) And all ate and they were satiated, and they took up the pieces, seven measures full.

Here’s another big link to the story of the 5,000. The word rendered as “pieces”, or could be “fragments” is used 6 or 8 times in the NT. In all cases, the word is associated with one of the feeding stories. Now, it could be that this is the only word for “fragment” in Greek. In English, we could say “piece”, or “fragment”, or “morsel”, or “broken bit”; maybe such richness of vocabulary was not available to the authors of the NT. Or it could be that this word was integrally associated with this story even before it split into twins.

Of course the fact that one story has 5,000 while the other has 4,000 is a problem, too. One could argue that it demonstrates that these are, indeed, separate incidents. That is sort of the drift of the NT commentaries that I see at biblehub. Or you could argue just the opposite, that it shows that the early followers of Jesus couldn’t get their story straight, because there was no story to get straight. It was all made up, and the different witnesses couldn’t keep their details from getting muddled. This is, after all, why suspects are interrogated separately. Or you could argue that there was never a count; that it was just “a lot”, and the different people telling the same story came up with slightly different numbers. This last one is a possibil8ity, especially when remembering the suggestion my priest had, that this was the first church potluck supper. The disciples had their contribution, everyone had something, everyone shared, and everyone got fed. How many? A lot. Maybe a thousand. A thousand? You’re nuts. It was three thousand! Way off, it was five thousand? So let’s settle on four? OK, great, Four it  is.

Aside from all that, the process of blessing and breaking is the same in both stories. However, the surprising thing would be if if weren’t the same. This is the sort of thing that later copyists would make sure were coordinated and matched, so this tells me very little about the relation between the two versions.

And of course the two versions end the same way, with the disciples collecting a substantial amount of leftovers.  So, one story split? Or two incidents that were separate from the beginning? I suspect the former, because there is really nothing substantial to indicate that we are dealing with two distinct episodes. It is not my purpose to question whether one or either actually happened, and it’s certainly not my purpose to discuss whether anything miraculous happened; rather, my purpose is to examine what the fact of the story’s inclusion tells us about the mind-set of the followers of Jesus. The twinning is great evidence for a multi-threaded tradition. More: since this is what we have been postulating, and seeing, throughout our examination, starting with Mark, this simply helps corroborate that argument. 

36 et accipiens septem panes et pisces et gratias agens fregit et dedit discipulis, discipuli autem turbis.

37 Et comederunt omnes et saturati sunt; et, quod superfuit de fragmentis, tulerunt septem sportas plenas.

38 οἱ δὲ ἐσθίοντες ἦσαν τετρακισχίλιοι ἄνδρες χωρὶς γυναικῶν καὶ παιδίων.

39 Καὶ ἀπολύσας τοὺς ὄχλους ἐνέβη εἰς τὸ πλοῖον, καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια Μαγαδάν.

Those eating were four thousand men, excluding the women and children. (39) And dismissing the crowd, he embarked on the boat, and he came to the territory of Magada.

And we even get Jesus getting back on the boat. The only thing missing is the storm and him walking on the water.

38 Erant autem, qui manducaverant, quattuor milia hominum extra mulieres et parvulos.

39 Et dimissis turbis, ascendit in naviculam et venit in fines Magadan.

Matthew Chapter 15:21-28

  This should be a very short section. Following will be the feeding of the 4,000. The two together would have been unduly long, so better a short one.

21 Καὶ ἐξελθὼν ἐκεῖθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὰ μέρη Τύρου καὶ Σιδῶνος.

22 καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ Χαναναία ἀπὸ τῶν ὁρίων ἐκείνων ἐξελθοῦσα ἔκραζεν λέγουσα, Ἐλέησόν με, κύριε, υἱὸς Δαυίδ: ἡ θυγάτηρ μου κακῶς δαιμονίζεται.

And having come out of that place, Jesus traveled into the territory of Tyre and Sidon. (22) And seeing (him) a Canaanite woman from that region having come out cried out, saying, “Have pity on me, Lord, son of David. My daughter is badly afflicted by a demon.” 

I’m not entirely pleased with “badly afflicted by a demon”. More accurate would be something like “is badly demonized”, but that has a very different meaning in English than “being afflicted by a demon”. So it will have to stand. Just recognize that the word that begins “daimon” is actually a verb. If it’s any consolation, the Latin reads much like my translation. Or, my translation more accurately reflects the Latin, rather than the Greek.

Tyre and Sidon are old Phoenician cities. They were still important commercial centres in the Roman era, and overwhelmingly pagan. James Tabor believes that Jesus came here to visit his real father, Pantera, because there is a gravestone in Germany that commemorates a soldier named Pantera who was originally from Sidon. Since there is a general overlap in the time frame–or, at least, it cannot be positively shown to be outside a span of time that would make the relationship virtually impossible–Tabor concludes that it commemorates Jesus’ actual father. Well, he’s slightly more circumspect than that, but not very much.  The tradition that Jesus’ biological father was a Roman soldier named Pantera dates from the Second Century, probably close to a century after Matthew wrote. It was meant as slur against Jesus, that he was a Roman bastard, but it seems that Tabor has met very few bits of tradition that he doesn’t accept.

My suspicion is that this story was added late. Or later. The purpose of the story is to show that Jesus was interested in pagans, too. As such, it would have come about when pagans started joining followers in significant numbers. Although thinking about it, the story doesn’t have to be that late. After all, our earliest documents from the NT are written to pagans. More, this story was, more or less in the form of Jesus’ encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman, to be included in Mark.

What’s particularly interesting is that Matthew calls her a Canaanite. Now, of course, this term is familiar from the HS, but this is the only occurrence of this word–or any form of it–in the NT. It is used nowhere else. So we have to ask why Matthew chose to use this particular word. Why did he spurn “Syro-Phoenician, for example? As a Jew, Matthew should have been very familiar with the idea of Canaan, and should have known that Canaan had ceased to exist centuries before. Is this meant as a nostalgic bit, intended to echo sentiments of the post-Exodus period? Or was it meant to demonstrate the age of Jewish tradition by referring to a long-ago past? Do those questions present a distinction without a difference?  Once we answer that question, we have to ask who this was intended to reach? Other Jews? Or pagans?

On the surface, it would seem that this reference would mean more to Jews than to pagans. Had any of this latter group ever heard of Canaanites? Recall that this term had fallen out of usage several centuries before; likely the only people familiar with the term would be those having read the HS. Was Matthew using the term as a means of solidarity with Jews? “Solidarity” may not capture the correct nuance; perhaps the intent is, by using a term that most pagans would not know, to demonstrate a bond with those in his audience who were Jewish, and who might have been feeling a little marginalized by all the pagan references Matthew has been using, Sort of throwing them a bone, as it were.

These thoughts were on the surface. What happens when we dig down a little? By being deliberately obfuscatory, by referring to a group of people who had long since departed the scene, but who played a big role in the early parts of the HS, was Matthew once again trying to show the connection to the more ancient Jewish tradition? To demonstrate to his pagan audience that this tradition had dealt with this tribe of people long ago, in the past so distant that most of the audience would be unfamiliar with the term? And suppose that Matthew had planted people in the audience* (this was meant to be read aloud to a group, recall) who would ask “Who are the Canaanites?”, which would give the reader the opportunity to expound on the ancient history of the Jews, to which they were connecting by becoming followers of Jesus. In this manner, the use of “Canaanite” would fall in with the predominantly pagan composition of the audience. But feel free to disagree. Just be prepared to provide reasons why this interpretation is less likely than another.

*Of course, this suggestion is deliberately over the top. It’s deliberately a bit ridiculous. However, these are the sorts of assumptions and inferences that Tabor draws in The Jesus Dynasty.

21 Et egressus inde Iesus, secessit in partes Tyri et Sidonis.

22 Et ecce mulier Chananaea a finibus illis egressa clamavit dicens: “ Miserere mei, Domine, fili David! Filia mea male a daemonio vexatur ”.

23 ὁ δὲ οὐκ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῇ λόγον. καὶ προσελθόντεςοἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἠρώτουν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Ἀπόλυσον αὐτήν, ὅτι κράζει ὄπισθεν ἡμῶν.

24 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἀπεστάλην εἰ μὴ εἰς τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα οἴκου Ἰσραήλ.

25 ἡ δὲ ἐλθοῦσα προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγουσα, Κύριε, βοήθει μοι.

26 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἔστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ βαλεῖν τοῖς κυναρίοις.

27 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν, Ναί, κύριε, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν.

28 τότε ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῇ, ω γύναι, μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις: γενηθήτω σοι ὡς θέλεις. καὶ ἰάθη ἡ θυγάτηρ αὐτῆς ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας ἐκείνης.

But he did not respond to her speech. And having come forward his disciples besought him, saying, “Send her away, she that shouts after us”. (24) And responding, he said, “I was not sent except to the sheep having been lost of the house of Israel”.  (25) She, having come, groveled at his feet saying, “Lord, help me.” (26) And he, answering, said “It is not proper to take the bread of the children and throw it to the dogs.” (27) But she said, “Yes, lord, and for the dogs eat from the the crumbs having fallen from the table of their master”. (28) Then answering, Jesus said to her,  “O woman, your faith is great. It shall become as you wish. And healed was her daughter from that hour.

The discussion about “Canaanite” was appropriate because Mark told this story about a Syro-Phoenician woman. Most of the details transferred directly, except for the ethnic background of the woman. So it was a deliberate choice made by Matthew. Why did he make that choice? (See previous comment)

Second, we have the word “groveled”. It probably bears repeating that the word <<προσεκύνει>> means something like, “act like a dog before”. The implication is that of a dog lying down before you and showing its belly. This is an act of submission, allowing the superior full access to the dog’s vulnerable underside. It’s an act of surrender. In human practice, the person performing this ritual fell on their stomach, face down, into the dirt. IOW, they groveled. This rite was practiced in the ancient Near East as way to pay respect to a superior, usually a king. At some point during his conquests, Alexander began to insist that his generals perform this before him. Now, as king of Macedonia, he was a primus inter pares, a first among equals. Greeks did not grovel before other Greeks, or before anyone. This was not a Greek, but an Asian practice, and these generals found it offensive. The point is that this woman groveled, face down in the dirt. This was an act of extreme humility.

And Jesus demurs, and calls her and those her ethnic background “dogs”. Not exactly a lot of respect, a borderline ethnic slur. But this was not an uncommon attitude back then. Other groups were just that: others. The Greeks called them “babblers” (barbaroi). The NT calls them, ‘the peoples’, which I will no longer translate as “Gentiles” because the Greek does not have that sense. Jesus is insisting that only the children of Israel are worthy of his attention. 

But, of course, he relents. This text, or the corresponding version in Mark or Luke, was the gospel text one very hot summer Sunday, in a church without air conditioning. The priest decided it was too hot to deliver his sermon. Instead, he asked a question: Do you think Jesus really wasn’t going to help? An excellent point.

But the point is her faith. Recall that Jesus called Peter “of little faith” not so long ago. As I said in Mark, and have said here, this story was probably added to tell us that Jesus was going to visit his father Pantera. Oh, wait. This story was added as an invitation to non-Jews, as a demonstration that non-Jews were part of Jesus’ mission, and to show that, often, non-Jews had a greater faith than Jews. Recall we had the story of the Centurion earlier, who had faith enough to realize that Jesus only had to say but the word and the servant would be healed. This story was in Mark, but the story of the Centurion wasn’t. So we’ve had two very distinct stories to indicate that non-Jews could–and often, or at least sometimes–have a faith greater than Jews. The point, of course, is to explain why the assemblies were predominantly made up of former pagans by the time Matthew wrote.

Now, we also had the paired stories of the Bleeding Woman and Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. Both of these obviously showed a lot of faith, and their requests were consequently granted. Those, I would suggest, are core stories of Jesus, very old, dating well back into the teachings about Jesus and his ministry. Did they happen, in any way, shape, or form? Let me rephrase that: aside from the miracles performed, did Jesus encounter these two people while he was alive? Or, since we don’t know, and will never know, do we think it’s likely that these encounters took place? While the probability is probably against it, I would say that these encounters are at least possible, and that the probability may reach into the range of 20-25%. The likelihood of the Centurion, or this woman, is down in the single digits. The low single digits. The genesis of this story occurred early enough to make it into Mark; the Centurion story did not, so this story is more probable than the Centurion. How much more? We may be talking percents of a percent. Tyre and Sidon are not that far from Caphernaum; the question is whether Jesus would actually go there. And we’re not told he went into either city, but he went into the area attached to the two cities. Most cities at the time had outlying areas, mostly agricultural areas that revolved around the city. Larger cities had larger areas, so it’s not impossible that Jesus drifted into the outskirts of the area attached to Tyre and Sidon. But given the message, and the value of creating the story, I’d say it’s not very likely to have happened. As for Jairus and the bleeding woman, the tales of the wonder-worker came from somewhere, and these two were at least in territory that Jesus probably walked and preached.

23 Qui non respondit ei verbum.

Et accedentes discipuli eius rogabant eum dicentes: “ Dimitte eam, quia clamat post nos ”.

24 Ipse autem respondens ait: “ Non sum missus nisi ad oves, quae perierunt domus Israel ”.

25 At illa venit et adoravit eum dicens: “ Domine, adiuva me! ”.

26 Qui respondens ait: “ Non est bonum sumere panem filiorum et mittere catellis ”.

27 At illa dixit: “Etiam, Domine, nam et catelli edunt de micis, quae cadunt de mensa dominorum suorum”.

28 Tunc respondens Iesus ait illi: “O mulier, magna est fides tua! Fiat tibi, sicut vis”. Et sanata est filia illius ex illa hora.

Matthew Chapter 15:1-20

So we begin Chapter 15. Since there are 28 chapters, this is the beginning of the second half. However, chapters vary in length, so as far as actual length, we may be ahead or behind that milestone.

1 Τότε προσέρχονται τῷ Ἰησοῦ ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων Φαρισαῖοι καὶ γραμματεῖς λέγοντες,

2 Διὰ τί οἱ μαθηταί σου παραβαίνουσιν τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων; οὐ γὰρ νίπτονται τὰς χεῖρας [αὐτῶν] ὅταν ἄρτον ἐσθίωσιν.

3 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Διὰ τί καὶ ὑμεῖς παραβαίνετε τὴν ἐντολὴν τοῦ θεοῦ διὰ τὴν παράδοσιν ὑμῶν;

4 ὁ γὰρ θεὸς εἶπεν, Τίμα τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα, καί, Ὁ κακολογῶν πατέρα ἢ μητέρα θανάτῳ τελευτάτω:

5 ὑμεῖς δὲ λέγετε, Ὃς ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ πατρὶ ἢ τῇ μητρί, Δῶρον ὃ ἐὰν ἐξ ἐμοῦ ὠφεληθῇς,

6 οὐ μὴ τιμήσει τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ: καὶ ἠκυρώσατε τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ διὰ τὴν παράδοσιν ὑμῶν.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem saying, (2) “Through what reason do your disciples transgress the things having been handed across of our elders? For they do not wash [ their ] hands when they eat bread”. (3) He (Jesus) answering, said to them, “Through what reason do you transgress the commandments of God through your things having been handed down? (4) For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother’, and ‘The one reviling his father or mother, let him be put to death’. (5) But you say, ‘Should one say to his father or his mother, “If a votive offering which from me might profit you, it will not honor his father”‘. (6) And you have annulled the word of God through your things having been handed down (= “traditions)”. 

Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honor not his father or his mother, [ he shall be free ]. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

I’ve provided the text of the KJV of Verses 5-6, just to demonstrate that they don’t particularly translate well into English. And in fact, note that the KJV adds the [ he shall be free ]; this phrase is neither in the original, nor in any of the other translations I checked. I believe the meaning can be parsed out, but it’s not exactly pellucid, as Prof CP Jones used to say. The idea is that people are giving to God (as a votive offering; such offerings are, by definition, offered to God/a god), then one is not using this same gift to honor one’s parents. This is a little tricky, because I think here is a case where my understanding of the verb “to honor” probably doesn’t catch the sense of what the verb would be in the Hebrew reading of the Decalogue. Plus, there is a level of understanding of Jewish custom here that I’m probably missing. Then too, I recall–quite clearly, in fact–that this passage in Mark was also grammatically challenging. I think the thing is that it’s difficult to sort this out unless or until one has a sense of what the topic is. That helps. Even so, the second “honor”, as in the back half of Verse 5, would have a different feel in Hebrew. I think I understand the Greek concept a little too well here. 

Really, though, the point is plain enough. Mark used the Hebrew term, “corban”, which was something given for the sole use of God (or the Temple. Hmmm…potential conflict of interest on the part of the priests?). the idea is that, once dedicated to God, it could not then be taken back and so given over to the use of an aged parent who perhaps had fallen on hard times. Thus, what Jesus is railing against is what reformers of the Roman Catholic church would use as criticism: that the money was sucked out of people, giving it to the church, thereby taking it away from people who may need it worse. It was such “useless” use of Capital that led Engels to conclude that the point of the Reformation, but even more so, the German Peasant War of 1525, was to create what is so charmingly translated as a “cheap church”. This was part of the reason that the Reformed Church, which became, or merged with English Puritanism, was so opposed to the Popish ostentation of stained glass, ornaments of precious metal, etc. Some of these issues have a long subsequent history.

I don’t really have much to say on the actual practice described. From that long and subsequent history, I can appreciate the problems a tradition like this can and did cause. I cannot, however, speak to whether this was a common practice, or just how common. Enough so that Mark assumed his audience would get it.

Which leads to another interesting point. Mark used the Hebrew term; Matthew does not. Why not? Well, the obvious answer that comes to mind is that he didn’t expect his audience would understand the word. He also omitted the “talitha koum’ from the story of Jairus’ daughter. Does this mean that he was writing for Greek-speaking Jews? That is entirely possible. Could it mean that he’s writing for Greek-speaking former pagans? That is equally possible. On behalf of the former interpretation, it can be pointed out that Matthew does not explain the practice here. He essentially re-writes Mark, without that much re-writing. Matthew adds nothing to make the meaning more explicable to non-Jews. But is this a valid point? We have seen that Matthew tends to subtract from Mark’s stories, except when he adds details that would serve to underscore the divinity of Jesus. That would not happen here, so this is not a point where Matthew was likely to add anything. My final assessment is that there is really nothing that would indicate one way or the other. It fits with my perceived pattern that Matthew was writing for pagans, but I cannot say that there is any real evidence here. 

1 Tunc accedunt ad Iesum ab Hierosolymis pharisaei et scribae dicentes:

2 “Quare discipuli tui transgrediuntur traditionem seniorum? Non enim lavant manus suas, cum panem manducant”.

3 Ipse autem respondens ait illis: “Quare et vos transgredimini mandatum Dei propter traditionem vestram?

4 Nam Deus dixit: “Honora patrem tuum et matrem” et: “Qui maledixerit patri vel matri, morte moriatur”.

5 Vos autem dicitis: “Quicumque dixerit patri vel matri: Munus est, quodcumque ex me profuerit,

6 non honorificabit patrem suum”; et irritum fecistis verbum Dei propter traditionem vestram.

7 ὑποκριταί, καλῶς ἐπροφήτευσεν περὶ ὑμῶν Ἠσαΐας λέγων,

8 Ὁ λαὸς οὗτος τοῖς χείλεσίν με τιμᾷ, ἡ δὲ καρδία αὐτῶν πόρρω ἀπέχει ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ:

9 μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με, διδάσκοντες διδασκαλίας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων.

“Hypocrites! It was well prophesied about you by Isaiah, saying, (8) ‘This people may honour me with their lips, but their hearts remain far from me. (9) In vain they worship me, teaching doctrines (and) commandments of men’.”

To be frank, I do not believe that Isaiah lived in the 8th Century BCE. In fact, I doubt that he lived at all. I am becoming increasingly of the opinion that much of the HS was written during the Babylonian Exile. What started me down this path was coming across the term “literary prophets”. It strikes me that this is largely a contradiction in terms. Prophets do not sit in a room and write; they are out prophesying. Yes, the prophet’s words may have been written down later; but then we have to ask if they are still and truly the words of the prophet? Rather, I see Isaiah as another after the fact foretelling of the fall of Judah to Babylon. I feel much the same about Ezekiel; he was written later to explain the fall of Israel. (And I also read Ezekiel to say that Israel was never truly part of the YHWH cultus. The creation of the “unified monarchy”, both parts loyal to YHWH was an after-the-fact creation of the kings of Judah, meant to legitimize their claim to the lands of the former Israel. This sort of mythological propaganda is very, very common.) So, yes, Judah only worshipped YHWH with their lips; that is why YHWH abandoned them to their fate and allowed the Babylonians to conquer Judah. This was an enormously traumatic event, but I would postulate that the Judeans had believed that they were special; perhaps because they had escaped Assyria when Israel hadn’t. Then came their own destruction, and they were faced with two choices: become assimilated into Babylonian culture–to facilitate this assimilation was why empires uprooted entire populations in the first place. The second choice was to remain defiant and retain their cultural identity. They chose the latter, not only retaining, but creating a national mythology, some of which was based on old stories, some of it newly forged.

For let us not forget that this was done in Babylon, the repository of two millennia of culture, of the myths and stories and history dating back to Sumer at the beginning of the Third Millennium BCE. The Judean scribes had access to all of these stories, all of this history. Maintaining records across centuries, as we are to believe the Judeans did, requires an infrastructure of scribes, a temple complex, and numerous other resources. None of this has been discovered, despite a couple of centuries of archaeological research. Yes, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, but so was Pylos in or around 1185 BCE. But we have found records from Pylos to demonstrate an elaborate palace economy. So far, there is nothing comparable from Jerusalem. I believe this is because Jerusalem had nothing comparable to the administration of Pylos, despite the claim that Jerusalem was the capital of a state much larger, and probably richer, than that of Pylos there on the western shore of Greece.

So anyway, yes, Judah only worshipped with their lips. That was the cause of their downfall. And now, after the second destruction of Jerusalem and the second temple, what better time to predict the fate “awaiting” the Jews at the hands of the Romans.

7 “Hypocritae! Bene prophetavit de vobis Isaias dicens:

8 ‘Populus hic labiis me honorat, / cor autem eorum longe est a me;

9 sine causa autem colunt me / docentes doctrinas mandata homi num’.”

10 Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν ὄχλον εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀκούετε καὶ συνίετε:

11 οὐ τὸ εἰσερχόμενον εἰς τὸ στόμα κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον, ἀλλὰ τὸ ἐκπορευόμενον ἐκ τοῦ στόματος τοῦτο κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

And calling the crowd he said to them, “Hear and understand. (11) It is not the coming into the mouth (that) defiles a person, but that coming out of the mouth defiles a person. 

Most of this is a lift and load from Mark. The part about “corban”, the citation of Isaiah, this part about the defilement. We’ve discussed this; there is probably close to zero probability that Jesus ever said anything like this. He almost certainly never directly abrogated the Jewish dietary laws. Otherwise, there would have been no need for the “synod of Jerusalem” between Paul and James to discuss this. Jesus taught to largely to Jews, and the common background of Mosaic law was simply taken as a given. It is only when Paul started converting pagans in large numbers that this became an issue. It was only then, and when Mark wrote, facing a similar problem, that it became necessary for Jesus to say something about this.

What I find more interesting is how this squares with Matthew’s statement that not an iota of the Law is to be lost.

Now, I’ve discovered Bible Hub. It is set up to provide access to a large number of commentaries, all conveniently placed on-line, so you can simply jump to a particular one. A cursory skim demonstrates a variety of ways in which this passage does not mean Jesus was directly contravening Mosaic Law. Here, as in the passage about corban, Jesus is said to be attacking the additional rules added by men. I am not versed enough in Deuteronomy or Leviticus or Numbers to have an intelligent opinion. Even so, I cannot help but see the parallel arguments in the 1500s, as reformers tried to sweep away any accruals to the faith created by the Church and tradition. Of course, it’s likely that many commentators on this passage see this same underlying parallel. As such, it’s best to be cautious about this interpretation. My position that this was not said by Jesus makes the understanding much more straightforward: this passage itself is a later accrual, and I do believe it was meant to revoke the prohibitions against eating pork and the rest. This does not, however, explain how this fits with Matthew’s “not an iota” proclamation, but I wonder if Matthew even saw a contradiction here, or even a potential contradiction. I tend to suspect not. Why not? Because he’s not writing systematic theology, where everything has to fit in a consistent manner. He is telling us a Truth, and Truth defies conventional notions of factual accuracy and consistency.

10 Et convocata ad se turba, dixit eis: “ Audite et intellegite:

11 Non quod intrat in os, coinquinat hominem; sed quod procedit ex ore, hoc coinquinat hominem! ”.

12 Τότε προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Οἶδας ὅτι οἱ Φαρισαῖοι ἀκούσαντες τὸν λόγον ἐσκανδαλίσθησαν;

13 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Πᾶσα φυτεία ἣν οὐκ ἐφύτευσεν ὁ πατήρ μου ὁοὐράνιος ἐκριζωθήσεται.

 Then the disciples coming to (him) said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees hearing the word/story were skandalized?” (lit = ‘stumbled’) (13) And answering he said, “Every plant which my heavenly father did not plant will be uprooted”.

This is the second, if not third time we have have come across an implication similar to that in Verse 13. Completing the theme from Verses 8-9, Jesus is “predicting” that the Pharisees will be uprooted. It’s hard not to see this as yet another post-facto prediction of the “coming” destruction of the Temple. But the prediction is not the salient point here (or is “salient point” redundant? I believe it probably is…) What matters is that the prediction is leveled at the Pharisees. Who were they? Just a group within the larger body of Judaic beliefs in the First Century. This verse seems to conflate the Pharisees with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. The two where by no means synonymous. The Pharisees were, according to Josephus, a numerous group, one identified by a belief in the resurrection of the body–among other things, no doubt, but this is one that Josephus singles out. The authorities, by definition, were a small group. There was probably a certain clustering of their religious outlook, but this probably centered on believing that they were the most suited to run the province for the Romans under the aegis of the governor, Pilate. To the best of my knowledge, the Pharisees were not destroyed during, or in the aftermath of the Jewish War. The implication of Josephus is that they were too numerous, and probably too widely dispersed to be eradicated, or even decimated, by the War. Saul identifies himself–with some pride, it seems–as a Pharisee, and he was from Tarsus.

The point of all of this is that we are being given a picture of Judea & Galilee that does not reflect the reality of the time of Jesus. The picture is perhaps not so much wrong as it is growing fuzzy around the edges. The situation depicted is not in sharp focus; a generation after the war, close to three after the death of Jesus, probably at a geographic remove, Matthew telling the story is not entirely clear on the details of how it was during Jesus’ life. This has a couple of pertinent implications. First, this should be a klaxon warning us that the tenuous hold on historicity has loosened significantly. The people telling the stories have forgotten a lot of the details; given this, it is imperative that we handle any would-be claims to historical accuracy with extreme caution, to the point of prejudice. And beyond this, the historicity of Luke and John should be largely disregarded unless there is a very powerful reason to accept what they say. And even then, anything that we may be convinced to take as factual should be regarded as isolated incidents. In The Jesus Dynasty, James Tabor swallows Luke’s story that Jesus and the Baptist were cousins pretty much whole, then compounds this horrific lapse of judgement by going along to the claims that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier named Pantera, that the so-called James ossuary is authentic, and that we have found the family tomb of Jesus. He’s cagey enough that he doesn’t exactly say these things in so many words–except for the relationship between Jesus and John, which he states as definitive–but there’s no doubt about his sentiments. Tacitus was the master of this: present the insinuation in such a way that the reader is left with the impression that it’s true, regardless of the absence of real proof.

The second implication is that this also adds a stroke or two of shading to my contention that Matthew was a pagan. As such, he is less likely to have a decent grasp on the ins and outs of the situation in Judea and Galilee fifty years prior. To stress once again, there is no definite proof that Matthew was a pagan. The default starting position is, and should be, that he was Jewish. However, there is a growing accumulation of little things like this that, IMO, make me question this assumption. At the very least, the question of Matthew as a pagan should be asked and answered in a serious manner. IMO, there is more evidence for Matthew being a pagan than there is for the existence of Q, and yet the latter is simply taken on faith, and taken as a given.

12 Tunc accedentes discipuli dicunt ei: “ Scis quia pharisaei, audito verbo, scandalizati sunt? ”.

13 At ille respondens ait: “Omnis plantatio, quam non plantavit Pater meus caelestis, eradicabitur.

14 ἄφετε αὐτούς: τυφλοί εἰσιν ὁδηγοί [τυφλῶν]: τυφλὸς δὲ τυφλὸν ἐὰν ὁδηγῇ, ἀμφότεροι εἰς βόθυνον πεσοῦνται.

“Leave them. They are blind guides. If the blind guides the blind, both into a ditch will fall”.

Two points about the Greek. The word here is that the blind are guiding the blind; they are not leading them. The difference in some way is slight; it probably has more to say about the English than the Greek. But there is a difference. Yes, we put our trust in a guide, we follow them on faith, but there is also a sense that a guide is a hireling. It’s someone we pay to conduct us through a museum, or in the wilderness, or whatever. A “leader” completely lacks this aspect of the term “guide”. As such, I think the difference is worth noting. It’s also worth noting that Luke repeats this word. So of course, this is a result of Q.

Secondly, the word that I’ve translated as “ditch” is an NT word. There are no extant uses if the word by Classical Greek–or even Hellenistic Greek–authors. I should note that there is a difference between Hellenistic Greek and koine Greek. The Hellenistic Age begins after the death of Alexander, at the point where most of the Eastern Mediterranean is controlled by Greek-speakers. This is no longer Classical Greek, but it hasn’t devolved into koine; many later writers, like Marcus Aurelius, wrote Greek of a complexity comparable to that of Classical authors. Koine, OTOH, has been greatly simplified. So we have no examples of this word outside the NT.

As such, this means that NT scholars and translators have the privilege of deciding what this word means. I tend to suspect that they may have cribbed from the Vulgate. The Latin rendering is a common enough word in Latin, so “ditch” or “pit” is a perfectly reasonable rendering of the Greek here. And let’s face it: when you fall into something, unless we’re using the expression metaphorically, whether it’s a ditch, or a pit really doesn’t make a lot of difference. The point is that, once again, this is a consensus translation. There have been many, many fewer of these in the Gospels than there were in Paul’s early letters, but they do occur,

14 Sinite illos: caeci sunt, duces caecorum. Caecus autem si caeco ducatum praestet, ambo in foveam cadent ”.

15 Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Φράσον ἡμῖν τὴν παραβολήν [ταύτην].

16 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ἀκμὴν καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀσύνετοί ἐστε;

17 οὐ νοεῖτε ὅτι πᾶν τὸ εἰσπορευόμενον εἰς τὸ στόμα εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν χωρεῖ καὶ εἰς ἀφεδρῶνα ἐκβάλλεται;

18 τὰ δὲ ἐκπορευόμενα ἐκ τοῦ στόματος ἐκ τῆς καρδίας ἐξέρχεται, κἀκεῖνα κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

19 ἐκ γὰρ τῆς καρδίας ἐξέρχονται διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί, φόνοι, μοιχεῖαι, πορνεῖαι, κλοπαί, ψευδομαρτυρίαι, βλασφημίαι.

20 ταῦτά ἐστιν τὰ κοινοῦντα τὸν ἄνθρωπον, τὸ δὲ ἀνίπτοις χερσὶν φαγεῖν οὐ κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

But answering, Peter said to him, “Explain to us this parable.” (16) And he said, “As of yet are you void of understanding”. (17) Do you not know that all things coming into the mouth goes to the latrine and in the running away is cast out? (18) And the things coming out of the mouth come out of the heart, and these things are pollute a person. (19) For the things coming from the heart are inner thoughts (that are) evil ones, murders, adulteries, depravities, thefts, perjuries, blasphemies. (20) These are the things polluting humans, the unwashing hands to eat does not defile people.”

This is another lift and load from Mark, right down to a lot of the vocabulary. Certainly, the “are you void of understanding” is a real hearkening back to Mark. And I had just commented about how Jesus does not get exasperated with his disciples. Here he singles out Peter.

This just occurred to me. We have had very few mentions of the names of any of the disciples so far. This is the fifth occurrence of Peter’s name, and two of them were in the walking on water story. Sneaking a peek ahead (spoiler alert!) I see that Peter’s name becomes much more common as we progress through the rest of the gospel. I’m not sure what this indicates, but there is likely some significance since the same phenomenon occurs, to maybe a lesser degree, in the other three gospels as well. Note this includes John, so it’s not just a matter of following Mark’s lead. I believe that, to some large degree, the disciples represent later additions; we will note that John tells us that Andrew, the brother of Peter, had originally been a disciple of John, and that it was Andrew who recruited Peter rather than Jesus himself. And we have an anecdote about the addition of Nathaniel and Philip; the former is a virtual non-entity in Mark and Matthew. In fact, Nathaniel is a complete non-person in the Synoptics, his name only occurring in John.

The growing role of the disciples–to the point where John adds someone new–is an indication of the way the layers begin to settle on top of the original story. The earlier parts of the story deal with Jesus the teacher; the later parts add the Transfiguration, the warning of the destruction of the Temple, and the Passion Narrative. The disciples play more prominent roles in those sections than they do earlier, when they’re largely relegated to the background.  Mary of Magdala is another such; these are the characters that later join the story to give it a richer sense of narrative. In the same way the Arthur legend accumulated characters: Merlyn was probably the first, then Guinevere, probably then Launcelot, and much later we get Percivale, Bors, Elaine and Galahad, Gawaine and Mordred, until the whole assemblage is complied by Malory in Le Morte D’Arthur in 1485.

There is significance in the roles played by each of the later additions. They represent different traditions; John’s introduction of Nathaniel–who is not in the Synoptics–probably represents someone known by the author of John. To give the source more credibility, John then adds Nathaniel to the original Twelve. If I were James Tabor, I would suggest that Nathaniel was one of the “eyewitnesses” John mentions during the crucifixion narrative (Jn 19:35). In such cases, John may have gotten some of his material from Nathaniel; as the members of the author of John’s circle may have known Nathaniel, so John had to impart a level of credibility to Nathaniel by making him not only a disciple, but an original disciple. Or, given the time lapse, someone known to the author of John may have had an aged teacher named Nathaniel, whom John promoted to original Twelve status. This is often how–or why–such additions are made. 

15 Respondens autem Petrus dixit ei: “Edissere nobis parabolam istam”.

16 At ille dixit: “ Adhuc et vos sine intellectu estis?

17 Non intellegitis quia omne quod in os intrat, in ventrem vadit et in secessum emittitur?

18 Quae autem procedunt de ore, de corde exeunt, et ea coinquinant hominem.

19 De corde enim exeunt cogitationes malae, homicidia, adulteria, fornicationes, furta, falsa testimonia, blasphemiae.

20 Haec sunt, quae coinquinant hominem; non lotis autem manibus manducare non coinquinat hominem ”.