Category Archives: Chapter 22
This is a chapter full of what the corporate world might call “coachable moments”. These are moments when Jesus is able to, or at least attempts to coach some thick-headed interlocutors into a better understanding of his teachings. Ostensibly, the events described all take place the day after the Cleansing of the Temple. After the big brouhaha, Jesus spent the night in Bethany, cursed the fig tree on his way out, and returned to the Temple, and has been there since the middle of Chapter 21. When looking through a red-letter edition of the the NT, starting in Chapter 20 and running through Chapter 25, this is a very long stretch of Jesus doing a lot of talking. Then Chapter 26 starts with the Last Supper and begins the Passion Narrative. In fact, this is probably the longest stretch of nearly-continuous talking by Jesus in the gospel. Of course, it’s the teaching of Jesus that most sets Matthew apart Mark. One reason this stretch is so long is that the corresponding section of Mark also has Jesus teaching a great deal, whereas the earlier sections of Mark contain narrative, usually revolving around wonders that Jesus worked, and there is much less of that here.
This emphasis on Jesus teaching in Mark coincides with the section of Mark’s narrative that deals with Jesus as the Christ. I would use this as further evidence of the unlikelihood of Q. This hypothetical document has been created as a repository of Jesus’ teachings, and yet we find that these teachings have attached themselves to the Christ narrative. More, when we have examined each of these teachings individually, the conclusion (well, mine, anyway) is that none of them are likely to have originated with Jesus based on the internal evidence of the stories themselves. It would be hard to overstate the significance of this conclusion. If the stories that involve the teachings of the Christ post-date Jesus’ actual life, taken with the fact that Paul tells us Jesus became the Christ only at the resurrection, this is pretty powerful evidence that the Christ-legend did not attach itself to Jesus during his lifetime in any significant manner. This, in turn, has all sorts of implications, including the reasons Jesus was executed, largely puncturing the story told in the Passion Narrative.
It is tempting to say that this helps drive a stake through the heart of Q, but it really doesn’t. There is no reason that teachings could not have been collected separately just because neither Jesus nor his followers portrayed him him as the Christ. But, I think the fact that most of these teachings we’ve read in the past two chapters do not seem to date back to Jesus should make us wonder out loud about whether any of the sayings attributed to Jesus actually trace back to him. Personally, I believe the Parables of the Sower and the Mustard Seed are the most likely candidates. And note that they do not talk about retribution or politics, but about the Kingdom of God/heaven/the heavens. And note that we are told this is what John preached. And note that these parables are decidedly non-violent in their approach and content. Unfortunately, assessing whether a story could be traced back to Jesus was not one of the criteria for judgement that I was using as we examined a lot of these stories, but it is something that should be, and will be, done. And retroactively to everything covered.
Again, since so much of this was covered in Mark, two interesting points come up when we see what Matthew has omitted that is found in Mark. The first we discussed, the man’s realisation that following those two commandments was more important than all the burnt sacrifices in the Temple. We discussed this in the chapter, so I don’t think it warrants going over again. The other missing piece of Mark is the story of the Widow’s Mite, the old woman who gives her last two coins to the Temple. Jesus then remarks that she has given more than all of the rich folk have, for these latter gave only from their excess while she gave basically all she had. This story has always disturbed me, and I have considered it a bad precedent for setting her up as an example of piety. Too many people without resources are too often hectored into giving more than they can afford, when they are the ones, perhaps who need help.
But why was it omitted? Because it sets a bad precedent? Somehow, for reasons I can’t entirely explain, I don’t think that’s it. If you look at Strong’s words, you realize that “poor” in all its forms is not a popular word among the evangelists, Luke perhaps excepted. This just does not get the amount of attention we–or I, at least–think it does. Jesus does not talk about the poor all that much, and this is something that I would have said was one of the major themes of Christianity. And then, much of what Jesus says about the poor is not really outside the tenets of mainstream Judaism going back to the book of Ezra, or even further (if there is a further back in time). Did Matthew simply not value the story as–let me rephrase that. Matthew did not especially value the story, which is why he didn’t include it. One temptation is to take this as a reflection of his pagan attitude, that social justice didn’t loom as large for him as it had even for Mark.
Since there is no groundbreaking material to analyse, since the most important thematic consideration is what was omitted, the last question to ask is how, or perhaps whether, this chapter gives us any insight into the development of the message of the proto-Christian assembly. The answer appears to be negative.
So, in all, this is not a chapter that teaches us much about how all was progressing. It is a chapter of stasis, of the status quo, hearkening backward rather than looking forward. But note that this chapter sits approximately in the middle of a very long section of Jesus’ teaching. In fact, this section is longer than the chapters that start with the Beatitudes. It seems like this is significant, but the question is how? Of what does the significance consist? So much is made of Q, of how it is the repository of Jesus’ teaching; but, in fact, we have more of Jesus’ teaching here, and in the corresponding sections of Mark, than we do in the Q material. This is especially true if we limit Q to the actual sayings of Jesus, and do not include things like the Baptist’s “brood of vipers” harangue, or the temptations of Jesus. Due to this, the idea that there existed an entire book of sayings of Jesus that circumvented Mark becomes a little less convincing, I think; although God knows I’m pretty much convinced.
In all, this was a difficult chapter for comment. I’ve spent a lot time in this chapter sitting and staring at the screen, probably more than I actually spent writing.
This will conclude Chapter 22. Jesus is still having at it with different (?) groups of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians in the Temple. This is a fairly short piece, and it seemed like it should be easily finished, but some of the implications turned out to be more difficult to untangle than I could have imagined. A couple of things popped up that I hadn’t anticipated, and this required some time to work them through.
34 Οἱ δὲ Φαρισαῖοι ἀκούσαντες ὅτι ἐφίμωσεν τοὺς Σαδδουκαίους συνήχθησανἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό.
35 καὶ ἐπηρώτησεν εἷς ἐξ αὐτῶν [νομικὸς] πειράζων αὐτόν,
36 Διδάσκαλε, ποία ἐντολὴ μεγάλη ἐν τῷ νόμῳ;
The Pharisees hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees were gathered together on him. (35) And one of them asked, [relating to the laws], testing him, (36) “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the law?”
What, are the Pharisees and Sadducees like a tag-team match here, or playing round-robin, or what? The first goes down, the other steps in, then the first comes back? Or, are these a different group of Pharisees than we had earlier? I almost suspect so, which could indicate that this was originally a separate story that got stitched on here.
34 Pharisaei autem audientes quod silentium imposuisset sadducaeis, convenerunt in unum.
35 Et interrogavit unus ex eis legis doctor tentans eum:
36 “Magister, quod est mandatum magnum in Lege?”.
37 ὁ δὲ ἔφη αὐτῷ, Ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ καρδίᾳ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου:
38 αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μεγάλη καὶ πρώτη ἐντολή.
39 δευτέρα δὲ ὁμοία αὐτῇ, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.
40 ἐν ταύταις ταῖς δυσὶν ἐντολαῖς ὅλος ὁ νόμος κρέμαται καὶ οἱ προφῆται.
He (Jesus) said to him (the querent), ” ‘Love the lord your God in all your heart, and in all your soul, and in all your understanding’. (38) That is the greatest and first commandment. (39) The second is similar to it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself ‘. (40) On these two commandments the entire law hangs and the prophets”.
I have heard this answer given by a wise Jewish man when asked to explain the law “while standing on one foot”. I do not know when this story is from, but I have the sense it was later than Jesus. The thing is, the first three commandments of the Decalogue together can be summed up by loving the lord, and the last seven can be summed up by loving one’s neighbor. So even if Jesus was the first to use this expression of the law–which I doubt–it’s really implicit in Jewish tradition. Jesus may, or may not, have been the first to summarize it in this elegant way, but even if he is, he’s not saying anything contrary to Jewish tradition. Nor is he adding anything, except a short-hand notation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
So is this authentic? There is no reason it couldn’t be that I can adduce. There is nothing time-specific about it, there is no sense of “prediction”, it doesn’t depend on anything else having occurred or not occurred when he says this. That’s not exactly a resounding affirmation, but there is nothing here that will really pin this down one way or the other. I can, however, see that one of Jesus’ followers may have wanted to put these words into Jesus’ mouth by taking them from someone else’s without attribution, but that doesn’t really constitute proof, or even a decent bit of evidence; plausibility, by itself, is a necessary but never a sufficient condition to demonstrate historical causation. Much beyond that, I don’t think we can go.
37 Ait autem illi: “ Diliges Dominum Deum tuum in toto corde tuo et in tota anima tua et in tota mente tua:
38 hoc est magnum et primum mandatum.
39 Secundum autem simile est huic: Diliges proximum tuum sicut teipsum.
40 In his duobus mandatis universa Lex pendet et Prophetae”.
41 Συνηγμένων δὲ τῶν Φαρισαίων ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς
42 λέγων, Τί ὑμῖν δοκεῖ περὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ; τίνος υἱός ἐστιν; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Τοῦ Δαυίδ.
43 λέγει αὐτοῖς, Πῶς οὖν Δαυὶδ ἐν πνεύματι καλεῖ αὐτὸν κύριον λέγων,
44 Εἶπεν κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου, Κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν σου;
45 εἰ οὖν Δαυὶδ καλεῖ αὐτὸν κύριον, πῶς υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ἐστιν;
46 καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο ἀποκριθῆναι αὐτῷ λόγον, οὐδὲ ἐτόλμησέν τις ἀπ’ ἐκείνης τῆς ἡμέρας ἐπερωτῆσαι αὐτὸν οὐκέτι.
(41) The Pharisees having gathered, Jesus asked them, saying, (42) “What does it seem to you about the christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “(He is the son) of David”.
(43) “How therefore did David in the spirit call him ‘lord’, saying (44) ‘The lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right until I may place your enemies under your feet”? (45) If therefore David called him ‘lord’, how is he (the christ) his (David’s) son?”
(46) And no one was able to answer to him this argument, nor did anyone dare from that day ask him anything.
This story is unusual because Jesus is the aggressor on this one. Instead of letting them come to him, he initiates the encounter by asking a loaded question. Since I have come to the conclusion based on the evidence of Paul that Jesus did not consider himself to be the messiah, nor did his disciples think of him in those terms. As such, it seems difficult to credit that this actually happened. I say that because there’s a sly wink to the audience in the story as it stands, letting the audience know that Jesus is asking this question because he’s the messiah. Get it? The drama, the irony, are great, very effective story-telling. Darn near perfect, or a little too perfect? On the face of it, aside from the subject, it is possible that Jesus did ask this question as a means of making the Pharisees look bad, but this seems more like after-the-fact mining of the HS to show that the common conception of the christ was wrong in some fundamental ways. The most likely reason for doing this would be to bolster the claim that Jesus was, indeed, the messiah.
So this story, on those data, was probably created after Jesus’ death. But it was in Mark, so it’s fairly early, but that gives us somewhere around 30-40 years for it to arise. And I note that it is in approximately the same context that it was in Mark: after the cleansing of the temple, when Jesus has come back the following day to have a calm little discussion with those in and around the Temple precincts, and everyone is calm and civilised despite the fact that Jesus supposedly trashed the joint the day before. That this story comes so late in Mark, in the run-up to the Passion, is significant. This latter part of Mark, thematically, is focused on the Christ narrative, rather than the wonder-worker part of Mark’s story. That matters, because it shows how the different narratives probably grew up in different times and in different places. And the narrative in Mark gives us a lot of the same stories we got here: the Wicked Tenants, Render unto Caesar, and the Sadducees and their woman with 7 brothers for husbands. And we get the first part of this section, about loving the lord your God and your neighbor. What is interesting is what we don’t get. Mark ends that story with a man agreeing with Jesus on his assessment of the law, and saying following these two commandments mattered to God more than all the burnt sacrifices that could be offered. Jesus’ response is saying that the man is not far from the kingdom of God.
So why did Matthew leave this out? That strikes me as a fairly important question. The sentiment expressed, that loving God and loving our neighbor is much more important than burning things on an altar is quite progressive for the First Century. Or, so it seems to our “enlightened” 21st Century value system. I think the question is whether it would have seemed so to contemporaries of Mark and Matthew, and, if so, to which contemporaries? My first instinct is that pagans, reared in an environment of Platonic and Aristotelean thought, in which the gods and the myths were seem, by many, to be exactly that, myths, might take to the idea of a non-sacramental religion sooner than would Jews, for whom the Temple and its offerings was at the very heart of their religious thought and practice. But that’s the offhand thought, the prima facie observation. Recall when Mark was writing: in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the Temple. This was the central focus of their practice, at least in theory. Now, suddenly, Jews were not able to perform the sacrifices. Ergo, it seems like Mark would insert this (whether he originated it or not) to assure Jews hearing the message of Jesus that this excision of a core part of Jewish practice was not the tragedy that it might seem. Indeed, people before the Destruction had come to this very conclusion, that burnt offerings were not necessary; rather, what mattered was the love of God and our neighbour. More, Jesus had foreseen this development, had sanctioned it, had embraced it, and had used it as a milestone marker on the road to the Kingdom of God. Would that not be appealing to a Jew, the heart of whose religion had just been ripped out and destroyed? It’s possible, to say the least.
Then consider the milieu in which Matthew wrote. The Destruction was now the tales of older people, something that happened some time ago, and the jagged edges of the fact had been worn, if not smooth then certainly much less jagged. Too, for the people to whom Matthew is preaching, pagans, the Destruction was really not the trauma it was for Jews, since the pagan temples were still in existence. And even for Jews, the need and the core responsibility for making sacrifice in the Temple was now something that had not happened for a decade or more, almost a generation; the imperative had diminished. People had adjusted to this new reality. So the need to smooth over the transition that had existed for Mark had dissipated by the time Matthew wrote. It had never pertained to the pagans hearing the Word, and the Jews were likely over it. So Matthew dropped it.
41 Congregatis autem pharisaeis, interrogavit eos Iesus
42 dicens: “Quid vobis videtur de Christo? Cuius filius est?”. Dicunt ei: “David”.
43 Ait illis: “Quomodo ergo David in Spiritu vocat eum Dominum dicens:
44 “Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis,
donec ponam inimicos tuos sub pedibus tuis”?
45 Si ergo David vocat eum Dominum, quomodo filius eius est? ”.
46 Et nemo poterat respondere ei verbum, neque ausus fuit quisquam ex illa die eum amplius interrogare.
Jesus has bested the Pharisees and the Herodians (who, now that we reflect, were very quiet in the preceding passage), and now he’s ready to take on the Sadducees.
23 Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ Σαδδουκαῖοι, λέγοντες μὴ εἶναι ἀνάστασιν, καὶ ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν
24 λέγοντες, Διδάσκαλε, Μωϋσῆς εἶπεν, Ἐάν τις ἀποθάνῃ μὴ ἔχων τέκνα, ἐπιγαμβρεύσει ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναστήσει σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ.
On that (same) day, approached to him (some) Sadducees who say (lit = ‘saying’) there is to be no resurrection (lit= ‘standing up’), and they asked him (24) saying, “Teacher, Moses said ‘If someone should die not having children, his brother should marry the woman of him (the dead brother) and he should raise progeny for his brother’.”
Just a few technical aspects here. Since there is one group denying the resurrection of the body, then we can be certain that there was a group saying that there was a resurrection. Moreover, this belief of the Sadducees, or rather the belief of those to whom the Sadducees were opposed does not get enough attention in the Christian literature. This is a hugely important bit of context into which Jesus was set, so that the idea of his resurrection was not some novel idea that had neither precedent nor forerunner. I’ve been reviewing what Paul has to say on the matter, and it’s very important to the understanding of this whole situation. Per Josephus, the Pharisees did believe in the resurrection; per Paul, he was a Pharisee. So Paul came into this already believing that the resurrection would happen. Offhand, I’m not sure when the Pharisees expected this to happen; however, we can draw an inference from Paul that provides a pretty sizable clue as to the timing. In 1 Corinthians 15:23 Paul says that Jesus is the first fruits of this harvest of the resurrection, and that those who belong to him will rise when Jesus returns.
In other words, this was to be an end-times event. Paul began to expect the end times not because of anything Jesus taught; rather, Paul believed the end times had come, or would soon come, because of what Jesus did. Or, what happened to Jesus: he was raised from the dead by God the Father. That was the signal, the starting gun, the sign that this was all going to happen. We cannot infer from this that all Pharisees saw this as an end-times event, but that seems like not an unreasonable inference to draw. I am very tempted to say that it indicates that Jesus was not a teacher of apocalypse, but that is not a legitimate conclusion. Jesus’ eventual resurrection really doesn’t confirm or deny any aspect of what Jesus taught. If anything, it would support the idea that apocalypse was a large part of what Jesus taught. Except that is belied by what Mark reports.
What needs to happen is that we need to review all of this again.
The technical aspect that I should have started with is “on that (same) day”. Jesus is still in the Temple, and one group after another is lining up to take him on. It’s sort of like pick-up basketball down at the local court. You get your team together, and wait to play the winner of the current game. That seems to be what is happening here. And I do want to reiterate the point I made in the opening: the Herodians are mentioned, and nothing else. This, I believe, supports my contention that there were no Herodians, that they were added simply to fill out the roster of those who allegedly had designs on Jesus’ life. We see how the layers of the story accrete, but they do not necessarily have any support in the text. Things get stuck on, but that doesn’t mean they belong.
23 In illo die accesserunt ad eum sadducaei, qui dicunt non esse resurrectionem, et interrogaverunt eum
24 dicentes: “ Magister, Moyses dixit, si quis mortuus fuerit non habens filios, ut ducat frater eius uxorem illius et suscitet semen fratri suo.
25 ἦσαν δὲ παρ’ ἡμῖν ἑπτὰ ἀδελφοί: καὶ ὁ πρῶτος γήμας ἐτελεύτησεν, καὶ μὴ ἔχων σπέρμα ἀφῆκεν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ:
26 ὁμοίως καὶ ὁ δεύτερος καὶ ὁ τρίτος, ἕως τῶν ἑπτά.
27 ὕστερον δὲ πάντων ἀπέθανεν ἡ γυνή.
28 ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει οὖν τίνος τῶν ἑπτὰ ἔσται γυνή; πάντες γὰρ ἔσχον αὐτήν.
(25) “There were for us seven brothers. And the first died, and not having offspring he left his wife to his brother. (26) The same also with the second, and third until all of the seven. (27) Last of all died the woman. (28) In the resurrection (lit = ‘standing up’) therefore, of which of the seven brothers will be the woman? For all had her”.
Having discussed this in Mark, for this iteration perhaps the most salient point about this story is the attitude with which it’s presented: there is a real attitude of “How ridiculous is this whole thing? They just don’t get it, do they?” What this implies, I think, is that there was among Jesus’ followers the idea of the resurrection of the body was sort of taken for granted. What this means, in turn, is that Jesus drew a lot of Jewish followers–at least in the beginning. The idea of a resurrected body would not have made sense to most pagans. In fact, for anyone with any sense of Plato, or the idea of a body/spirit duality would have found the idea of putting the spirit back into the body post-mortem to be retrograde motion. For Greeks, or anyone who held the superiority of the spirit over the body, the idea was to escape from the body and become pure spirit*.
Now, this is not terribly favourable to my idea that the tipping point, when more converts came from pagan rather than Jewish backgrounds came earlier than is generally supposed. Now this story was in Mark as well, and it may have pre-dated Mark. So it could comfortably fit into a milieu of mainly Jewish converts. And I have heard it said that the Pharisees were the direct ancestors of what became the rabbinic Judaism we have been familiar with for at least the last millennium. So it would be appropriate for a group made up of followers of the Pharisees–or at least, of their persuasion for the resurrection–to make fun of those silly Sadducees who didn’t believe it in. [ Hmmm. See the silly Sadducees. Say that a few times quickly…] And we also know that, as time progressed, the idea of saving the immortal soul became pretty much the bedrock belief of Christianity. So while the story originated in a setting where the followers were mostly Jewish, enough pagans came around to the idea so that Matthew could perpetuate the story here.
[ *Note: I’m using “spirit”. I could also use the term “soul”, but at this point that word, I think, doesn’t really mean what we think it means. There is some serious contention about this. Greeks often used a tripartite division of body/spirit (breath, pneuma)/mind, with the latter being the highest of the three. Breath = spirit = pneuma. The first root is Germanic, the second is Latin, and the third is Greek. They all kinda sorta mean the same thing, the idea of the breath in a body, which disappears at death. Psyche kinda sorta means the same thing, but differently. That is the breath of life. In Greek, saving one’s psyche would refer to saving one’s life and not the immortal soul as we would envision it. But this is an issue complex and thorny. ]
25 Erant autem apud nos septem fratres: et primus, uxore ducta, defunctus est et non habens semen reliquit uxorem suam fratri suo;
26 similiter secundus et tertius usque ad septimum.
27 Novissime autem omnium mulier defuncta est.
28 In resurrectione ergo cuius erit de septem uxor? Omnes enim habuerunt eam ”.
29 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πλανᾶσθε μὴ εἰδότες τὰς γραφὰς μηδὲ τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ θεοῦ:
30 ἐν γὰρ τῇ ἀναστάσει οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται, ἀλλ’ ὡς ἄγγελοι ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ εἰσιν.
31 περὶ δὲ τῆς ἀναστάσεως τῶν νεκρῶν οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑμῖν ὑπὸτοῦ θεοῦ λέγοντος,
32 Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ θεὸς Ἀβραὰμ καὶ ὁ θεὸς Ἰσαὰκ καὶ ὁ θεὸς Ἰακώβ; οὐκ ἔστιν [ὁ] θεὸς νεκρῶν ἀλλὰ ζώντων.
33 καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ ὄχλοι ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ.
(29) Answering, Jesus said to them, “You wander (err), not understanding the scriptures, nor the power of God. (30) For in the resurrection there will be no marrying nor being married, but as angels in the sky they are. (31) Regarding the resurrection of the dead you do not know the writing to you about God, saying, ‘I am the god of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’. God is not of the dead, but the living.”
(33) And hearing the crowd were driven from their senses by his teaching.
I will be quite honest when I say that Jesus’ argument from Scripture isn’t particularly convincing. There is no real logical connexion between “I am the God of Abraham & c” and “he is the God of the living”. At best, there is sort of a grammatical sleight of hand; “I am the God” instead of “I was the God”. It’s not even really one of Jesus’ better retorts, certainly nowhere near the brilliance of the “render unto Caesar” exchange. And I wonder that the Sadducees didn’t have some sort of comeback for this. Instead, they slink off with their tails between their legs, thoroughly trounced by Jesus’ superior argumentative skills and his knowledge of Scripture.
All of this is by way of saying that I would question the historicity of the incident. No surprise there, since I question the historicity of most of what we’re reading. But really, this is one that I had originally thought was a decent candidate for tracing back to Jesus, but now I can’t really buy that as likely.
It seems there should be more to say about this, but nothing further is coming to me. This has been sitting for about four days now, and I’m still coming up empty. Perhaps more will occur to me later. If this is too abrupt, my apologies.
29 Respondens autem Iesus ait illis: “Erratis nescientes Scripturas neque virtutem Dei;
30 in resurrectione enim neque nubent neque nubentur, sed sunt sicut angeli in caelo.
31 De resurrectione autem mortuorum non legistis, quod dictum est vobis a Deo dicente:
32 “Ego sum Deus Abraham et Deus Isaac et Deus Iacob”? Non est Deus mortuorum sed viventium”.
33 Et audientes turbae mirabantur in doctrina eius.
The chapter continues. Jesus is still engaging the Pharisees and the Sadducees and–and note that the high priests apparently are no longer present. What happened to them? We are in the Temple, after all. They were there at the beginning of the engagement. But it seems that they have slinked away. Or is this another case of editorial fatigue? Matthew just sort of forgot where all of this was situated, since he was just copying down material from sources that had been committed to writing during Jesus’ lifetime, or, at most, shortly after Jesus’ death?
The original plan was to push on through Verse 33; however, the change in topic after the end of Verse 22 provides a logical break for the comment. I decided to go with two shorter sections, rather than a single long one. I hope this doesn’t affect the continuity of the narrative too much. At least, maybe it will not affect continuity as badly as having to wait an inordinately long time in between posts because the sections are too long.
15 Τότε πορευθέντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι συμβούλιον ἔλαβον ὅπως αὐτὸν παγιδεύσωσιν ἐν λόγῳ.
16 καὶ ἀποστέλλουσιν αὐτῷ τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτῶν μετὰ τῶν Ἡρῳδιανῶν λέγοντες, Διδάσκαλε, οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀληθὴς εἶ καὶ τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ διδάσκεις, καὶ οὐ μέλει σοι περὶ οὐδενός, οὐ γὰρ βλέπεις εἰς πρόσωπον ἀνθρώπων.
17 εἰπὲ οὖν ἡμῖν τί σοι δοκεῖ: ἔξεστιν δοῦναι κῆνσον Καίσαρι ἢ οὔ;
(15) Then the Pharisees having gone away they took counsel how they might ensnare him in his speech.
(16) And they sent to him disciples with those being of the Herodians saying, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and the way of the lord in truth you teach, and that it does not matter to you about anyone, for you do not look to the face of men. (17) So tell us how it seems to you: is it proper to give the kenson to Caesar or not?”
Note: it’s hard to render the first part of Verse 16 in a way that’s not ambiguous in English. What the passage is saying is that the Pharisees sent some disciples and these disciples approached Jesus along with members of the Herodian party.
The “kensos” is the Greek form of a Latin word. The Latin is literally the “census”, which gets transliterated into Greek as “kensos”. The “census” was essentially a head tax, assessed on everyone that was counted in the census. And the census was taken, largely, for taxing purposes. One paid a flat tax of a given amount to the emperor. Period.
Also, I recall this construction giving me a major problem when we encountered this passage in Mark. The verb is impersonal; so “it does not affect you/matter to you about anyone”, which colloquially would be something like “you don’t give a fig what anyone thinks”. So, I guess this indicates that I’ve made some progress in my comprehension since then. This is not the most straightforward construction, but it doesn’t seem all that difficult on this iteration. And this is more or less a second iteration, since it’s almost verbatim from Mark. And the bit about “not looking to the face of men” is a way of saying that one is not concerned with the opinion of humans, but with the will of God.
Finally, the most interesting part of this may be that Jesus is being quizzed by the disciples of the Pharisees, and some of the Herodians. These would be the party of Herod, presumably Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee among other places. There are a couple of reasons why this is curious. First, we are not in Galilee, nor anywhere else under Herod’s authority. As such, these people had no sort of authority in any real sense. Herod ruled at the sufferance of Rome; Pilate was the prefect; he had the legions; he was in charge and minor characters like Herod did what they were told. Of course, we will later be told in the course of the Passion narrative that Herod was in town, presumably for Passover. Given this, it would scarcely be surprising that he had retainers, a retinue, a group of camp followers with him. Rather, the sticking point comes in two ways: why would Herod’s followers be trying to trip up Jesus while he was in Jerusalem? Why would they particularly care? While he’s in Judea, he’s the problem of others, namely (or ultimately) Pilate.
There would be no benefit to the Herodians to stir up trouble on someone else’s turf. To understand this, it’s really imperative to realize just how ruthless and savage the Romans were as a rule. They were perfectly willing to let you practice your own religion, believe whatever you wanted, but just don’t cause trouble. Those who did were dealt with very severely. And the Romans weren’t always careful about wading through the circumstances to find the real culprit, or the party that was truly responsible for the uproar. Yes, it’s conceivable to suggest that followers of Herod might not have minded to see Jesus get in trouble in Jerusalem, to the point that the Romans might arrest him and dispose of him. Of course, this assumes that Jesus had a substantial following that had caused problems in Galilee. Mark tells that Jesus had an enormous following on the one hand but then tells us that Jesus kept his identity a closely-guarded secret. Which was it?
There is one more critical point to remember. According to our best source on Jesus’ career, Jesus did not become recognised as the Messiah until after he was raised from the dead. This is what Paul tells us, if a bit obliquely, and only between the lines. If this is true–and we have no reason to doubt what Paul tells us–then Jesus made no claim to political title during his lifetime. He was not hailed as the Messiah. He did not claim to be “King of the Jews”. As such, there was no reason for Herod, who had the best claim to the title, to feel uneasy about Jesus’ career. It’s important to note that the idea of Jesus as King of the Jews only shows up in the Passion narrative, and there is real opinion that the Passion narrative had a separate genesis outside the evangelists. That is, Mark found the story more or less intact. And Paul seems unaware of this story. He never referred to it, and tells us that Jesus only became the Christ upon being raised from the dead. Given this, much of the political motivation for Herod, and the Romans, to see Jesus as an insurrectionist pretty much goes away. Jesus was not a zealot, Aslan’s book to the contrary. As such, why would the Herodians seek to stir things up while they are in Jerusalem, under Pilate’s jurisdiction? Why put yourself at risk? So, I ask again, why are the Herodians here?
My suggestion is that they are here as sort of back-fill from the Passion narrative. There was a need, or a desire, to widen the conspiracy against Jesus to include as many of the authorities–of the Jewish authorities–as possible. This was present already, and perhaps especially, in Mark, who had most need to throw the blame for Jesus’ death anywhere but upon Rome.
Of course, this is speculation, but it is, perhaps, educated guesswork. At times I get the sense that I’m really twisting things to fit my theories; if such is the case, this will only become apparent as I review what I’ve written to see if it is internally consistent. I believe so, but then, of course I would.
Now the question becomes, did this happen? Does this–or more accurately, could this–reflect something that (more or less) actually happened? Probably not, at least given the assumptions that I have been making, and that I’ve made in this comment. This is a decidedly political action, one meant to demonstrate loyalty–or at least, grudging acceptance–of the Roman imperium. Jesus is saying he has no problem with this. My suspicion is that this comment would be more appropriate to the early 70s than it would be to the mid-30s. At the later time there was more urgency to the need to be accepting the Roman rule. Yes, Judea and Galilee were perennial hotspots, flash points of trouble for Rome, so demonstrating something approaching good will was always politick. But in the 70s it was something more akin to self-preservation. And again, if we remove the idea of the Messiah and the King of the Jews from Jesus’ resumé, then the need to be conciliatory is greatly diminished, which cannot be said of the early 70s when Mark wrote. So, yes, this could have been based on a real incident in the life of Jesus, but it probably wasn’t.
15 Tunc abeuntes pharisaei consilium inierunt, ut caperent eum in sermone.
16 Et mittunt ei discipulos suos cum herodianis dicentes: “ Magister, scimus quia verax es et viam Dei in veritate doces, et non est tibi cura de aliquo; non enim respicis personam hominum.
17 Dic ergo nobis quid tibi videatur: Licet censum dare Caesari an non?”.
18 γνοὺς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν πονηρίαν αὐτῶν εἶπεν, Τί με πειράζετε, ὑποκριταί;
19 ἐπιδείξατέ μοι τὸ νόμισμα τοῦ κήνσου. οἱ δὲ προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δηνάριον.
20 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τίνος ἡ εἰκὼν αὕτη καὶ ἡ ἐπιγραφή;
21 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Καίσαρος. τότε λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῷ θεῷ.
22 καὶ ἀκούσαντες ἐθαύμασαν, καὶ ἀφέντες αὐτὸν ἀπῆλθαν.
(18) But knowing Jesus the wickedness of them said, “Why do you test me, hypocrites? (19) Show me the established (coin) of the census (the coin and its denomination used to pay the census tax)”.
(20) They showed forth to him a denarius.
(21) And he asked them, “Of whom is the image and the epigraph?”
(21) They said to him, “Of Caesar”. Then he said to them, “Give over the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God.”
(22) And hearing, they marveled, and quitting him they went away.
Honestly, this passage is too well-known to require any real comment. The cleverness of the ruse, the wittiness of the response, all of it is first rate. And we’ve already discussed the probable (lack of) historicity of the incident. The only comment to be made is to note that this is one of the first times that suggested the separation of Church and State. As such, this passage was often at the centre of the discussions between pope and secular rulers during the thousand years of the Middle Ages. And even before that, when Christianity was legalised by Constantine, and then made obligatory by Theodoric, this passage figured prominently as the two types of power tried to come to some sort of modus operandi.
18 Cognita autem Iesus nequitia eorum, ait: “ Quid me tentatis, hypocritae?
19 Ostendite mihi nomisma census ”. At illi obtulerunt ei denarium.
20 Et ait illis: “ Cuius est imago haec et suprascriptio? ”.
21 Dicunt ei: “ Caesaris ”. Tunc ait illis: “ Reddite ergo, quae sunt Caesaris, Caesari et, quae sunt Dei, Deo ”.
22 Et audientes mirati sunt et, relicto eo, abierunt.
Apparently, Jesus is still engaged with the same Pharisees and high priests as he was at the end of the last chapter. Their conversation continues, with Jesus beginning another parable. This comes third after that of the Two Sons and the Wicked Tenants.
1 Καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν εἶπεν ἐν παραβολαῖς αὐτοῖς λέγων,
2 Ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ βασιλεῖ, ὅστις ἐποίησεν γάμους τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ.
And answering, Jesus again spoke in parables to them, saying, (2) “The kingdom of the heavens is like a king to men, who prepared a wedding ceremony for his son.”
The “king to men” is a dative of possession. It’s like “c’est a moi”, which is also a dative of possession. And here we see Jesus is still speaking to the high priests.
1 Et respondens Iesus dixit ite rum in parabolis eis dicens:
2 “Simile factum est regnum caelorum homini regi, qui fecit nuptias filio suo.
3 καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ καλέσαι τοὺς κεκλημένους εἰς τοὺς γάμους, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελον ἐλθεῖν.
4 πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους λέγων, Εἴπατε τοῖς κεκλημένοις, Ἰδοὺ τὸ ἄριστόν μου ἡτοίμακα, οἱ ταῦροί μου καὶ τὰ σιτιστὰ τεθυμένα, καὶ πάντα ἕτοιμα: δεῦτε εἰς τοὺς γάμους.
(3) “And he sent his slaves out to call those invited to the marriage, and they did not wish to come.
(4) “Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those invited, ‘Look at my best I have prepared, my bulls (oxen) and *fatlings* have been burned and all is prepared. Come to the wedding’.
This is the only use of the Greek word here translated as *fatlings*. As such, we have no way to know what it means. Here is where the Vulgate comes in handy. It is rendered into Latin as “altilia”, and this is a word that has some usage, so we know–in this instance–that “fatling” is actually the proper translation. And it certainly fits the context.
3 Et misit servos suos vocare invitatos ad nuptias, et nolebant venire.
4 Iterum misit alios servos dicens: “Dicite invitatis: Ecce prandium meum paravi, tauri mei et altilia occisa, et omnia parata; venite ad nuptias”.
5 οἱ δὲ ἀμελήσαντες ἀπῆλθον, ὃς μὲν εἰς τὸν ἴδιον ἀγρόν, ὃς δὲ ἐπὶ τὴν ἐμπορίαν αὐτοῦ:
6 οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ κρατήσαντες τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ ὕβρισαν καὶ ἀπέκτειναν.
(5) “Those being neglectful (i.e., of the invitation) went away, on one hand one (went) to his field, while another to his business. (6) The rest seizing his slaves acted in a high-handed fashion and killed them.
What I’ve rendered as “acted in a high-handed fashion” is the verb “hubrizein”. You may recognize this as from the root of “hubris”, which is the overstepping of one’s allotted purview in Greek tragedy, thereby invoking the “phthonos” of the gods, who send “nemesis”. So these invitees overstepped the bounds of their place and their authority by acting improperly towards the slaves of another man and killing them. So it’s not like there are two separate ideas here, they didn’t beat the slaves and the kill them; rather, they acted outrageously by killing them.
5 Illi autem neglexerunt et abierunt, alius in villam suam, alius vero ad negotiationem suam;
6 reliqui vero tenuerunt servos eius et contumelia affectos occiderunt.
7 ὁ δὲ βασιλεὺς ὠργίσθη, καὶ πέμψας τὰ στρατεύματα αὐτοῦ ἀπώλεσεν τοὺς φονεῖς ἐκείνους καὶ τὴν πόλιν αὐτῶν ἐνέπρησεν.
(7) “Then the king waxed wroth, and he sent his army to kill these killers and burned their city.
Once again the Vulgate bails us out. The verb translated as “burned” is extremely rare, pretty much occurring exactly this once. So what does it mean? Well, St Jerome decided it meant “to burn”, and the Latin verb again is fairly common in the sense that the word is used a number of times by different authors. This way the context can be checked and cross-checked for the word’s meaning.
Interesting that we have two such words in the space of a few verses in this story. What does this mean? It means that the author was both very familiar with Greek, but familiar with perhaps a non-standard version, or a version that had a number of idiosyncrasies. The vocabulary was a bit unusual. Generally, such rare words are the result of either an older form of a language being preserved by being in a secluded enclave, away from the mainstream development of a language. Hence, “hark, what light through yonder window breaks” would only be found in Shakespeare or Appalachia, the latter being an enclave cut off from the mainstream, thereby preserving these archaic forms. Or, we go to the other extreme, that words are formed in the very centre of the civilisation, where neologisms are created. “Sisista”, the word used for “fatlings” does not entirely sound Greek to me. It sounds like a loan word from another language. If this is true, that it was imported, the language of origin could provide a pretty strong clue about where this gospel was likely written. Matthew almost certainly gathered stories from different sources and places; if the word were, say, Persian, then we could suggest that Matthew lived somewhere that there was a certain amount of interaction with Persians. Such a place would be the eastern border of the Roman Empire, like Mesopotamia, where the Sassanid Empire and Rome faced each other in an uneasy truce that held most of the time. In those times there would be a certain amount of commerce back and forth, and the word got imported with whatever other Persian products made their way into the Roman sphere. The verb “to burn”, OTOH, sounds pretty much like it’s of Greek origin. So an old form? Someplace in the shadow of Persia could be a likely spot where an enclave of Greek-speakers lived on cut off from the mainstream of Greek speech.
All very fascinating, but I have no idea of the origin of “sisista”. So this is pure speculation, but the principles and the processes described are accurate. It’s just a matter of isolating the location.
The bit about “burning their city” is almost certainly a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70. This time, the king did not send a son as well as slaves, but coming hard on the heels of the parable of the Wicked Tenants, it was probably not necessary to repeat the idea. I’m sure it was not lost on listeners, especially those who were listening to this in a continuous stream. So this third parable reaffirms the message of the first two, and provides the additional reassurance that, yes, Jesus had foreseen the sack of the city.
Of course, it’s interesting to note that the king invited people from a city that he subsequently burned. This is clearly an act of vengeance, but it also does not reflect well on the king for inviting this particular group of guests in the first place, especially if he felt that he could burn down their town. But, as I am wont to say, this is a myth; it’s not intended to have a one-to-one correlation to real life. The reason I bring this up is to point out how this relates to the Predestination debate that will create havoc for a thousand years, and which still has never been “settled” in Catholic doctrine. For if God predestines all to either Heaven or Hell, why were the Jews the Chosen People if at some point they were going to be superseded by pagan non-Jews? But the pursuit of this debate is beyond the scope of this commentary. As I said, it has never truly been settled, largely because it cannot truly be settled. At least, it can’t be settled without some contravention of our understanding of “God”.
7 Rex autem iratus est et, missis exercitibus suis, perdidit homicidas illos et civitatem illorum succendit.
8 τότε λέγει τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ, Ὁ μὲν γάμος ἕτοιμός ἐστιν, οἱ δὲ κεκλημένοι οὐκ ἦσαν ἄξιοι:
9 πορεύεσθε οὖν ἐπὶ τὰς διεξόδους τῶν ὁδῶν, καὶ ὅσους ἐὰν εὕρητε καλέσατε εἰς τοὺς γάμους.
(8) “The he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding (banquet) is prepared, those having been invited are not worthy. (9) Therefore go out upon the passageways of the roads, and whomever you find invite (him/her) to the wedding.’
It’s tempting to point out that the king just sent out a military expedition to burn a city. Now he’s telling his slaves to invite whomever they encounter to a banquet that has been prepared, presumably hanging fire while the city was razed. But again, that is asking for a degree of literal truth that is simply beyond the intent of the story. This is, in truth, an excellent example of “myth”; of course it doesn’t make sense in a literal way. To ask this to make sense is to miss the point entirely. It’s meant to cause the listener to look back to the events of 70, and to understand them in a symbolic way. The Jews had been invited; they declined to attend, so their city was burned in the best “God is annoyed” fashion from, say, Judges, and so bad things happen to the Jews; God delivered them into the hands of their enemies. Then, to make up for the empty places, the pagans are to be invited. So, mythically and symbolically, it makes perfect “sense”. This is how much of the narrative of the entire Bible is to be taken.
8 Tunc ait servis suis: “Nuptiae quidem paratae sunt, sed qui invitati erant, non fuerunt digni;
9 ite ergo ad exitus viarum, et quoscumque inveneritis, vocate ad nuptias”.
10 καὶ ἐξελθόντες οἱ δοῦλοι ἐκεῖνοι εἰς τὰς ὁδοὺς συνήγαγον πάντας οὓς εὗρον, πονηρούς τε καὶ ἀγαθούς: καὶ ἐπλήσθη ὁ γάμος ἀνακειμένων.
11 εἰσελθὼν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς θεάσασθαι τοὺς ἀνακειμένους εἶδεν ἐκεῖ ἄνθρωπον οὐκ ἐνδεδυμένον ἔνδυμα γάμου:
12 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἑταῖρε, πῶς εἰσῆλθες ὧδε μὴ ἔχων ἔνδυμα γάμου; ὁ δὲ ἐφιμώθη.
13 τότε ὁ βασιλεὺς εἶπεν τοῖς διακόνοις, Δήσαντες αὐτοῦ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ἐκβάλετε αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.
14 πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσιν κλητοὶ ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί.
(11) “Then the king going out to see those having been invited saw there a man not garbed in wedding garb. (12) And he (the king) said to him (the guest), ‘Comrade, how did you come this wan not having wedding garb?’ But he was silenced. (13) Then the king said to the deacons, ‘Bind him foot and hands (and) throw him out into the darkness that is outside. There there is the wailing and gnashing of teeth.’ (14) For many are called, but those chosen are few’.”
10 Et egressi servi illi in vias, congregaverunt omnes, quos invenerunt, malos et bonos; et impletae sunt nuptiae discumbentium.
11 Intravit autem rex, ut videret discumbentes, et vidit ibi hominem non vestitum veste nuptiali
12 et ait illi: “Amice, quomodo huc intrasti, non habens vestem nuptialem?”. At ille obmutuit.
13 Tunc dixit rex ministris: “Ligate pedes eius et manus et mittite eum in tenebras exteriores: ibi erit fletus et stridor dentium”.
14 Multi enim sunt vocati, pauci vero electi ”.
Here is another great example of the difference between myth and literal truth. Think about it: the slaves are told to invited whomsoever they found. There was no stipulation that they were to be in wedding garb. And yet, someone is at the wedding not in proper attire. Are we to assume that all the others, upon being invited, first went home and changed into proper dress before coming to the banquet? No, of course not. To ask that, or to assume that is, again, to impose a burden of factuality on a story that is an example; it’s a parable. So this level of realism is as inappropriate as the man’s dress.
To be quite honest, this story used to bother me for exactly that reason: it didn’t (really) make sense. But it does. We are all invited to the banquet, but we’d best show up dressed properly or we’ll be tossed into the darkness. What is most interesting to me now is that he is tossed into darkness, rather than into the unquenchable fire threatened by the Baptist back in Chapter 3. But again, that’s asking for a consistency appropriate to a closeted theologian who is conceptualizing Heaven and Hell somewhere in an Ivory Tower, where she has the time to reflect, to think through, and to spot inconsistencies. Because how many places have you been where there was an unquenchable fire burning outside? But we all have been places where and when it was dark outside. As a final note to this, we have Zoroaster to thank for this image of the dark as something bad.
As a final word on the parable as a whole, it should be pointed out that this is unique to Matthew. As such, it cannot be said to be part of the Q material since it wasn’t used by Luke. As such, it’s ascribed to the M material, the sources that were only available to Matthew. Here again, this explanation and categorization pretty clearly demonstrates how Biblical exegetes will find a way to set up a pathway by which all the material can be traced back to Jesus; that is, nothing was composed in the interim between Jesus’ death and the time of the writing. This story does not trace back to Jesus. It was composed after 70 CE, after the destruction of Jerusalem. Did Matthew have a source than handed this story down to him? Perhaps. Did Matthew compose this? That’s at least as likely as his having a source, and I would say it’s even more likely. I find it difficult to believe that Matthew set out to write a gospel without actually, you know, writing part of it. With Mark, I find it easier to accept that he did sit down with a bunch of different stories from different sources and try to cobble them together, and that he eventually did cobble them together into something like the gospel that we have bearing his name. With Matthew, however, that’s much harder to accept since there is so much more in Matthew’s gospel. There are a dozen (no, I didn’t actually count them; it’s a metaphorical number. Like the Twelve) stories added in Matthew, including the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount. Most of what is added is stuff Jesus (supposedly) said.
So why didn’t Luke include this story? Really, why should he? Luke easily has a dozen more stories that aren’t in Matthew, many of them being the most memorable in the NT. Does this constitute evidence that Luke never saw Matthew, and didn’t use Matthew as a source? Absolutely not. When we get to Like, a comparison of the stories that they share will demonstrate, pretty conclusively, I believe, that Luke did use Matthew. The stories of John the Baptist and the Temptations are great examples. But that will be more appropriate to discuss when we get there.
We conclude Chapter 21 with another parable. Recall that we had another at the end of the last section, a parable about two brothers asked to help in the vineyard. The first refused, but relented; the second agreed but didn’t go. This one we will recognize as the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.
33 Ἄλλην παραβολὴν ἀκούσατε. Ἄνθρωπος ἦν οἰκοδεσπότης ὅστις ἐφύτευσεν ἀμπελῶνα καὶ φραγμὸν αὐτῷ περιέθηκεν καὶ ὤρυξεν ἐν αὐτῷ ληνὸν καὶ ᾠκοδόμησεν πύργον, καὶ ἐξέδετο αὐτὸν γεωργοῖς, καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν.
Listen now to another parable. “A man who was being the head of a household planted a vineyard and encircled it with a wall and dug in it a wine press and constructed a tower, and he leased it to farmers, and then he went away.
We have set the scene. “Farmers” doesn’t exactly work for people running a vineyard; the root is from “gaia”, the “earth” (hence Pangea, the Latinised form), so perhaps it’s a bit more general than farmer, but I’m picking nits here. The point is, this is a substantial piece of construction.
33 Aliam parabolam audite. Homo erat pater familias, qui plantavit vineam et saepem circumdedit ei et fodit in ea torcular et aedificavit turrim et locavit eam agricolis et peregre profectus est.
34 ὅτε δὲ ἤγγισεν ὁ καιρὸς τῶν καρπῶν, ἀπέστειλεν τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ πρὸς τοὺς γεωργοὺς λαβεῖν τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτοῦ.
35 καὶ λαβόντες οἱ γεωργοὶ τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ ὃν μὲν ἔδειραν, ὃν δὲ ἀπέκτειναν, ὃν δὲ ἐλιθοβόλησαν.
“When arrived the season of the fruit, he sent his slaves to the farmers to received his fruit. (35) And the farmers seizing his slaves whom on the one hand they beat, and whom on the other they killed, and whom they threw stones at him.
The first point is that the landlord was accepting payment of the rent in kind. In effect, those leasing the vineyard were sharecroppers. The second point is that the second part of Verse 35 is a really unusual construction. The use of the << μὲν…δὲ…δὲ >> is very interesting. On one hand, << μὲν >>, it’s sort of a grammar-school sort of usage, not terribly sophisticated perhaps, but very effective. I’m honestly not sure if I should look down my nose at it or be impressed. Upon review, I’ll lean towards the latter interpretation, since he rescued it with the whom…whom…whom construction. Matthew wasn’t completely unversed in Greek. But no, this doesn’t help us decide whether he had been a pagan or not; by the time he wrote, there were many, many Jews whose first language was Greek. Philo of Alexandria is one of the more famous. And we know that Matthew read his HS in Greek rather than Hebrew, since he translated Isaiah’s “young girl” as “virgin”, which is what the Greek word was: “parthena”. (Yes, as in Parthenon. Athene was a virgin per Greek mythology.)
34 Cum autem tempus fructuum appropinquasset, misit servos suos ad agricolas, ut acciperent fructus eius.
35 Et agricolae, apprehensis servis eius, alium ceciderunt, alium occiderunt, alium vero lapidaverunt.
36 πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους πλείονας τῶν πρώτων, καὶ ἐποίησαν αὐτοῖς ὡσαύτως.
37 ὕστερον δὲ ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ λέγων, Ἐντραπήσονται τὸν υἱόν μου.
“Again he sent to other slaves, more than the first ones (a larger number of them), and they did the same to them. (37) Finally, he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will heed my son’.
Not much to say here. Just to stress again << δούλους >> does not mean “servant”, regardless of how many times you see it as such. It means “slave”. There have been a couple of instances where we’ve come across a word that does mean something more like “servant”, but there have been only a couple, to the point where I don’t recall the word offhand. And Paul often refers to himself as the << δούλος >> of Christ. He means “slave”.
36 Iterum misit alios servos plures prioribus, et fecerunt illis similiter.
37 Novissime autem misit ad eos filium suum dicens: “Verebuntur filium meum”.
38 οἱ δὲ γεωργοὶ ἰδόντες τὸν υἱὸν εἶπον ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ κληρονόμος: δεῦτε ἀποκτείνωμεν αὐτὸν καὶ σχῶμεν τὴν κληρονομίαν αὐτοῦ.
39 καὶ λαβόντες αὐτὸν ἐξέβαλον ἔξω τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος καὶ ἀπέκτειναν.
“The farmers seeing the son said amongst themselves, ‘He is the heir; following, let us kill him and we may have his inheritance’. (39) And seizing him, they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
We all knew this was going to end badly, didn’t we? The interesting part is that they expected to have his inheritance. Perhaps they intended to take it by force? Or did they expect that the landlord would simply concede it to them?
38 Agricolae autem videntes filium dixerunt intra se: “Hic est heres. Venite, occidamus eum et habebimus hereditatem eius”.
39 Et apprehensum eum eiecerunt extra vineam et occiderunt.
40 ὅταν οὖν ἔλθῃ ὁ κύριος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος, τί ποιήσει τοῖς γεωργοῖς ἐκείνοις;
41 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Κακοὺς κακῶς ἀπολέσει αὐτούς, καὶ τὸν ἀμπελῶνα ἐκδώσεται ἄλλοις γεωργοῖς, οἵτινες ἀποδώσουσιν αὐτῷ τοὺς καρποὺς ἐν τοῖς καιροῖς αὐτῶν.
42 λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οὐδέποτε ἀνέγνωτε ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς, Λίθον ὃν ἀπεδοκίμασαν οἱ οἰκοδομοῦντες οὗτος ἐγενήθη εἰς κεφαλὴν γωνίας: παρὰ κυρίου ἐγένετο αὕτη, καὶ ἔστιν θαυμαστὴ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν;
43 διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἀρθήσεται ἀφ’ ὑμῶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ δοθήσεται ἔθνει ποιοῦντι τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτῆς.
44 [Καὶ ὁ πεσὼν ἐπὶ τὸν λίθον τοῦτον συνθλασθήσεται: ἐφ’ ὃν δ’ ἂν πέσῃ λικμήσει αὐτόν.]
45 Καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι τὰς παραβολὰς αὐτοῦ ἔγνωσαν ὅτι περὶ αὐτῶν λέγει:
46 καὶ ζητοῦντες αὐτὸν κρατῆσαι ἐφοβήθησαν τοὺς ὄχλους, ἐπεὶ εἰς προφήτην αὐτὸν εἶχον.
(40) “When therefore the lord of the vineyard may come, what will he do to these tenant-farmers?”
(41) They said to him (Jesus), “These bad ones badly he will destroy them, and the vineyard he will lease to other tenant-farmers, who will give over to him the fruit in their season of them.”
(42) He said to them Jesus, “Nowhere do you know in the writings, ‘The stone which the builders reject, this will become the head corner. It will become for the lord, and it is a wonder in our eyes’.” (43) “Because of this I say to you that taken from you will be the kingdom of God and it will be given to the nations making its fruit. (44) [ And the one falling upon this stone will be broken. From which, on the other hand, it might fall to crush him (the one it falls upon).
(45) And hearing his parables, the high priests and the Pharisees knew that about them he was speaking. (46) And seeking to apprehend him they feared the crowd, since as a prophet they held him.
My apologies, but I have to start at the end. This is, I believe, at least the second time we’ve heard this about the high priests, how they were afraid of the crowd. And the authorities, Antipas and whoever else, were afraid of the crowds and so demurred from doing anything to John. In both cases, it was because the crowd held them to be prophets. In both cases the prophets were executed by the authorities, and in neither case did the crowd respond in any violent manner. People resented Antipas for executing John, they said that Antipas had brought the military disaster upon himself, but Josephus doesn’t tell us about any rioting or insurrection. Nor do we hear about anything of the sort in the aftermath of Jesus’ execution. What this tells me is that this was an after-the-fact rationalization, and one probably thought up by Jesus’ followers to discredit the high priests and religious authorities. Ergo, it’s an obvious anachronism that cannot be taken seriously. And note that it didn’t cause them to plot Jesus’ death further, as had happened back in Galilee; it didn’t stiffen the resolve that the cleansing of the Temple had instilled in the high priests. That whole episode seems to be completely forgotten; there were absolutely no apparent ramifications. This also argues for the non-historicity of the event. It happened. It was a discreet thing. It disappears as a plot device. So, no, the high priests were not afraid of the crowd in any way that was particularly centered upon Jesus. They were wary of it in general, certainly, but in the end they had Jesus executed right at the beginning of the Festival. That makes no sense if this was something they were worried about. It implies that either a) they didn’t put Jesus to death; or b) they didn’t fear the crowd’s reprisal at all. And I suppose there is a (c): all of the above.
And the way the Pharisees are brought in and blamed really makes no sense if Josephus’ description is at all accurate. This was not a cohesive corporate body, but a group within the larger body, disparate, composed of individuals, not at all a single entity. Here is a situation that seems to be telling us that the author of this did not truly understand what the Pharisees were. This, in turn, could be forged into an argument that Matthew was a pagan who did not understand the situation in Jerusalem two generations prior to when he wrote. The only problem with this as an argument is that this misunderstanding of the Pharisees did not originate with Matthew. He inherited it from Mark. So what does that imply? Well, that Mark didn’t understand who the Pharisees were, either. Does that mean Mark was a pagan, too? That might be stretching it. I don’t know if the Pharisees were a phenomenon throughout the Jewish world, or if they really only existed in Judea, Galilee, and the vicinity. If the latter, and if Mark lived somewhere outside the Holy Land–which is the consensus–then it’s easy enough to understand how he got this muddled.
Regardless, I do not believe I’ve ever seen this discussed; why did Mark not know this about the Pharisees? And why is it that no modern scholars have puzzled this out? In part because it disrupts the narrative flow of the Passion story and potentially undermines the explanation for Jesus’ death. And thereby it undermines the essential credibility of Mark, and casts a very long shadow of doubt about whether Mark was the John Mark of Acts, which raises questions about whether he got his stuff from Peter. Because Peter should certainly have known a lot of this. Pull a thread, the whole skein unravels. This just kind of indicates how fragile the whole edifice is here, doesn’t it? We really can’t be all that certain about very much. It also may indicate that even Mark was not writing entirely, or perhaps not even primarily for an audience composed of Jews. How were things like this allowed to stand if this was being disseminated to Jews? And that would also prop up the argument that the whole “Messianic Secret” theme in Mark was to explain to pagans why the Jews hadn’t gone over to Jesus en masse.
OK, back to the beginning of the section. The content of the parable is so obvious that even the high priests and Pharisees understand it. This is a far cry from the parables in Mark that Jesus had to explain. And we need to remember that we got a pair of them, this one coming hard on the heels of the parable of the two sons. The two of them form a nicely complementary brace of stories. The first explains how sinners will supersede those who apparently are righteous but don’t actually serve the will of God. This one we just read is has more of a Jewish/pagan theme: the ones who were chosen as the original tenants, who were going to be superseded by the pagans. As such, we know that this story was a much later addition, coming about to explain why so many of the followers of Jesus were pagans rather than Jews. And since the placement of the story here in the run-up to the Passion, we are supposed to understand this as another prop to support the story that the high priests conspired to execute Jesus.
Support for that theory is getting mighty shaky.
40 Cum ergo venerit dominus vineae, quid faciet agricolis illis? ”.
41 Aiunt illi: “ Malos male perdet et vineam locabit aliis agricolis, qui reddant ei fructum temporibus suis ”.
42 Dicit illis Iesus: “ Numquam legistis in Scripturis:
“Lapidem quem reprobaverunt aedificantes, / hic factus est in caput anguli; / a Domino factum est istud
et est mirabile in oculis nostris” ?
43 Ideo dico vobis quia auferetur a vobis regnum Dei et dabitur genti facienti fructus eius.
44 Et, qui ceciderit super lapidem istum confringetur; super quem vero ceciderit, conteret eum ”.
45 Et cum audissent principes sacerdotum et pharisaei parabolas eius, cognoverunt quod de ipsis diceret;
46 et quaerentes eum tenere, timuerunt turbas, quoniam sicut prophetam eum habebant.