Category Archives: Chapter 24

Summary Matthew Chapter 24

The intent was to compare and contrast Matthew 24 with Mark 13 in order to see what had changed in the interim. Then, we’d examine the changes for a theme, and develop a theory for why the changes had occurred, and then use this to explain developments in the beliefs of the followers of Jesus. One problem: the two chapters are virtually identical. I could copy & paste the Summary of Mark 13, make some very minor changes, and then call it a day. Tempted as I might be, we’ll try a different approach.

There are some minor differences. In Mark, Jesus explains the signs to Peter, James, and John; in Matthew, he tells all the disciples. Speaking of temptation, it is very tempting to see this as perhaps more significant than it may be. One of my contentions is that Jesus did not have an inner circle of Twelve; I suspect that was implemented by James, on very little evidence whatsoever. In Mark, Jesus seems to have five chief followers: the three just named, Peter’s brother Andrew, and Judas who betrayed him. And note that Judas is not mentioned until the very end, and the rest of the Twelve, Matthias and Phillip and whatever the rest of them were named are exactly that: named. The term is more common in Matthew, but written later we would expect that. In Mark, the term really does not become lodged in the vocabulary until the Passion story, when it’s used instead of disciples. There is a body of opinion that believes the Passion story had a separate genesis from the gospel itself. It’s possible that the creators of this narrative were familiar with a tradition of the Twelve, where the rest of the stories Mark accumulated were from a different (set of) tradition(s).

This has an interesting implication. If the Twelve are in the Passion narrative, and the Twelve are part of the James tradition, does that mean, or possibly imply, that the Passion narrative came from James and his group? It’s possible, but not necessary. James is considered to represent the Jewish roots of Jesus’ teaching; that is certainly the impression Paul provides. As such, it seems unlikely that James would be the one to come up with the idea of blaming the Jewish authorities. With this, we have acknowledge that there is an opinion that the Passion narrative predates the rest of the gospel. It appears, however, that this opinion is under fire and does not command the respect that perhaps it once did. The other consideration is that it is, above all, the Passion story that attempts–almost desperately–to exonerate the Romans and place blame for Jesus’ execution on the Jews. As I have seen, this very, very clearly of a piece with Josephus’ attitudes in The Jewish War. This puts the composition of the Passion story after 70, after the destruction of the Temple, at the same time that Chapter 13 was composed.

Lately I have been toying with the idea that perhaps Mark was written both before and after 70. That is to say, Mark composed up to, say, Chapter 9 prior to the War, and then adding 10-15 after. The thing with this theory is that it’s entirely unnecessary. If you’ll recall, my analogy for Mark was that of a weaver, weaving the strands of different traditions into a single, unitary narrative. He would have, or could have done this starting in 67 (e.g.) and then completing it all after 70. Or, he could have written the whole thing after 70. I will maintain that the War and its consequent destruction of the Jerusalem assembly left a bit of a hole in the fabric of the Christian assemblies, which the composition of a written “good news” was intended to fill. The Jerusalem assembly may have been moribund in a real sense prior to the war, but the loss could still have had serious psychological impact. And it would have particularly benefitted any surviving members of the Jerusalem assembly to come up with a story that put distance between them and the rebel Jews. This could put Mark into the category of a refugee from the war; it’s an interesting theory, but there are apparently a few geographical mistakes which make it seem that Mark was not familiar with either Galilee or Judea or both. More likely, he got his story from a refugee. Perhaps even more likely is that he got the story from someone on the Roman side: the outline, but lacking in details. But then, Mark didn’t really need details; he only needed the outline. One thing I do find hard to credit is that Mark was a companion of Peter. How was it that Peter did not tell Mark about Jesus’ teachings? How did those end up in Q and not in Mark. Yes, explanations can be provided; the problem is, this requires further elaboration on the story. And, somewhat counterintuitively, the more complex the story, the less likely it is to be true. This is especially true for stories told a distance in either place or time. Here we have both.

One other minor difference between the two versions is that Matthew has the non-specific disciples specifically asking Jesus for the signs of his Parousia. Interesting to note that Matthew is the only evangelist to use this word; all other occurrences are in epistles, mostly in the three letters of Paul that we’ve read: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, and 1 Corinthians. Matthew only uses the word four times, and they are all in this chapter. The first is in Verse 3, when the disciples ask for the signs; the other are in Verses 27, 37, and 39. All pertain to the Parousia of the son of man. Now, the significance of this is blunted to some extent. Mark certainly connects the horrors of those times with the coming of the son of man; it’s just that Mark does not use the term “parousia”. But he talks about the sun being blackened, the moon not giving light, & c. These two couplets are both from Isaiah, but they are from different parts of Isaiah, Chapters 13 & 34; however both are talking about the day of the lord, when he comes in anger, so the reference is appropriate.

Just a word about “parousia”. It’s another of those Greek words (like baptize) that has a special meaning in English that is completely absent in Greek. It simply means “presence”, or “arrival”, which we is probably how we should take it when used of the son of man. Now note that: it does not mean return. If Jesus is going to make a second coming, is going to arrive a second time, would it not be more appropriate to talk about his return? Is there a very subtle linguistic clue here? Of course, I just said that Mark does not use the word, even though Matthew does. Mark simply says the son of man is coming; again, a very neutral, ordinary verb. But he does not say that the son of man is returning, so I don’t think the use or non-use of this particular word is all that significant; it’s the idea of what it means that matters. There is nothing special about the word; in 1 Corinthians 16, Paul talks about the parousia, the arrival, of three assistants in Corinth, and there are a few other neutral uses of the word in the NT–almost all of them in epistles.

Rather, I would suspect that the non-use of the term is compatible with Paul’s non-use of the term “son of man”. Paul talks about the arrival of the lord; he does not talk about the return of Jesus. For, to Paul, Jesus the man was not returning; rather, the apotheosis of Jesus, as the lord, was to arrive. This could, perhaps, provide a clue about the son of man. If Mark is still reflecting the earlier belief that Jesus the man was not entirely divine, then this would explain why Mark has Jesus talk about the son of man in more-or-less third-person terms. Jesus is effectively saying that the son of man will come as prophesied in Daniel, with the implication that he is to be the son of man. In this way, the son of man both is and is not Jesus. Of course, this runs the risk of being overly complex, but it does provide some rationale for the ambivalence and ambiguity about Jesus’ divinity found in Mark.

Matthew, of course, has no such ambivalence. Jesus was divine from birth. That event was proclaimed even in the stars as seen by the magoi. This means Jesus was a figure of cosmic significance right from the start. And since Matthew alternates son of man with son of God, the identity of the two becomes clear.

One interesting omission from Mark involves the intimate nature of the coming tribulation. Matthew does not tell us that brother will betray brother, or that a father will betray his child. Rather, he adds the analogy to Noah, and tells us that of two women or two men, one will be taken and the other will not. This, I think, reflects the added distance from the war that Matthew had. Some of the grim details of civil war that were so important, perhaps because they were so fresh, to Mark have faded into the background for Matthew. So the latter omits the references to civil war, and adds references to an earlier apocalypse, that of Noah, and the more supernatural element of one being taken while the other is left.

Looking at the big picture, the changes from Mark are fairly minor, and largely can be described as tinkering about the edges. Matthew retains the main outline and major themes; he adjusts the focus a bit, making this a little less about an actual physical event and more about a cosmic event, but there is nothing terribly startling. This similarity indicates that the thought-world of the church had not moved too far between the times of the writings of these too gospels, but it had moved. The most telling difference, I think, is the addition of the parable of the faithful and wicked slaves. The time is still coming, the day of the lord approaches, but the exact timing is uncertain. Therefore, we need to be like the faithful servant: be ready, be watchful. Do not suppose like the wicked servant that the time has been delayed. Most likely this directly addressed a real situation among Christian communities. Paul expected it momentarily; but two generations have come and gone since then and there has been no coming. It is easy to see where this would make the followers of Jesus a bit concerned, leaving them perhaps a bit demoralized. To paraphrase Cicero, how long, o lord, must we endure? No doubt that was a difficult question for leaders of the various assemblies. This parable was added to address exactly this question.


Matthew Chapter 24:40-51

This will conclude a very long Chapter 24. To set the scene, we’re at the end of the apocalypse of the Synoptic Gospels. Specifically, Jesus is describing the circumstances of what will happen when the son of man comes. Or returns.

40 τότε δύο ἔσονται ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ, εἷς παραλαμβάνεται καὶ εἷς ἀφίεται:

41 δύο ἀλήθουσαι ἐν τῷ μύλῳ, μία παραλαμβάνεται καὶ μία ἀφίεται.

42 γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε ποίᾳ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ κύριος ὑμῶν ἔρχεται.

“Then (when the son of man comes), two will be in the field, one is taken up and the other will be left. (41) Two hand-grinding with the hand-grinder, one is taken up and one is left. (42) Therefore be watchful, because (lit = ‘that‘) you do not know when the day of your lord comes.

This, of course, is a description, or partial description, of the Rapture. One is taken, one is left. What is interesting is not what is here, but what is not: the reason why one is taken and the other isn’t.

40 Tunc duo erunt in agro: unus assumitur, et unus relinquitur;

41 duae molentes in mola: una assumitur, et una relinquitur.

42 Vigilate ergo, quia nescitis qua die Dominus vester venturus sit.

43 ἐκεῖνο δὲ γινώσκετε ὅτι εἰ ᾔδει ὁ οἰκοδεσπότης ποίᾳ φυλακῇ ὁ κλέπτης ἔρχεται, ἐγρηγόρησεν ἂν καὶ οὐκ ἂν εἴασεν διορυχθῆναι τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ.

44 διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ὑμεῖς γίνεσθε ἕτοιμοι, ὅτι ἧ οὐ δοκεῖτε ὥρᾳ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἔρχεται.

45 Τίς ἄρα ἐστὶν ὁ πιστὸς δοῦλος καὶ φρόνιμος ὃν κατέστησεν ὁ κύριος ἐπὶ τῆς οἰκετείας αὐτοῦ τοῦ δοῦναι αὐτοῖς τὴν τροφὴν ἐν καιρῷ;

“That one you will know that if the master had known in which watch (the time) the thief comes, he was watchful and did not allow the breaking up (= breaking int0) of his house.  (44) Because of this you should be ready, that (since) you do not know the hour the son of man comes. (45) For who is the faithful slave and sensible whom the lord sets down upon his household of his giving to them the food in its season (= when it’s time)?   

One of the things that has constantly struck me about examining these books of the NT is just how oblique so much of the teaching is. Up above we are not told why the one is taken and the other is left. Here we need to be watchful, but how? By doing what? If you recall Paul gave us a laundry list of things we must not do–the chief of which was always, always, fornication–in order to be ready for the day of the Lord. So we have to piece this together, spread over a lot of different places and books. Matthew here uses the term “day of your lord”, but that’s close enough, I think. That should be close enough for us to take it as the same term. Because one thing we cannot–we absolutely cannot–do here is assume that what is said in one book can be taken to illuminate something said in another. [Note: this is a fundamental technique of Jewish scriptural interpretation; it has a name, a very common name, that I cannot for the life of me remember at this moment. I do remember that we discussed it before, but where or when or why is lost to me at the moment. ] We cannot assume this because we do not know how widely, and how quickly the various books were disseminated. This is particularly true with Paul. Of course we know that Matthew and Luke knew of Mark, and Luke knew of Matthew, but how and when did the evangelists become aware of Paul’s writings? We can assume, of course, that Luke was aware of Paul since the former made the latter the star of Acts, but we do not know, for certain, that Matthew was aware of Paul. Almost certainly Mark was not.

Now, just because we cannot assume, does not mean we cannot infer. Within Matthew we have encountered a number of different passages of oblique references to the kingdom, to the life, to those who will inherit the kingdom; these passages are enough and sufficiently varied for us to infer that the Christian belief of being rewarded post-mortem was pretty much established in the minds of most. And given Paul’s laundry lists, it seems reasonable that this belief in a reward dates back at least that far; however, with Paul, the reward was not necessarily post-mortem; 1 Thessalonians is explicit that he expected living persons to enter the kingdom; in fact, he was trying to allay the fears of some that the dead would not be included in the eternal reward. 

This, I believe sufficiently answers the question: we are ready for the day of the lord by living moral lives. Just like the nuns told me all those years ago.

Now, the next question is whether we can infer from “day of your lord” (V 42) that Matthew was directly referencing Paul’s “day of the lord”. The answer, of course, is that we don’t know. If forced to guess, or estimate, I would have to say probably not. It’s difficult to feel too much confidence when extrapolating from a single phrase. More, this is the sort of thing that could have been in common currency among a number of assemblies. There is just not enough there.

43 Illud autem scitote quoniam si sciret pater familias qua hora fur venturus esset, vigilaret utique et non sineret perfodi domum suam.

44 Ideo et vos estote parati, quia, qua nescitis hora, Filius hominis venturus est.

45 Quis putas est fidelis servus et prudens, quem constituit dominus supra familiam suam, ut det illis cibum in tempore?

46 μακάριος ὁ δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος ὃν ἐλθὼν ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εὑρήσει οὕτως ποιοῦντα:

47 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ὑπάρχουσιν αὐτοῦ καταστήσει αὐτόν.

“Blessed is that slave who the lord coming finds the former doing in this way. (47) Amen I say to you that upon all those devoted of him he will establish him.  or

Amen I say to you that [the lord] will put [the faithful slave] in charge of all the lord’s possessions.*

This second verse is perplexing me. The standard translation is “and over all his (the lord’s) possessions, he (the lord) will set him (the faithful servant). OK, that is absolutely what the Latin says. The problem is that, as far as I can see, << ὑπάρχουσιν >> does not mean “possessions” (lit = good things, in the Latin). And the grammar is off. The Greek word is a participle; it’s a verb, describing a current action. The word mean, per Liddell & Scott, “to begin”, or “to undertake”, or “to establish”, or “be devoted to”, which is how I’ve rendered it. The problem is that such a usage requires the dative, whereas here we have a genitive; this explains the really awkward translation as “devoted of him”.

Well, it appears that had I scrolled down to the very bottom,<< ὑπάρχουσιν >> can be translated as “possessions”; but only in the NT. This makes me wonder if this shading (definition #15 or so down the list) is not taken from the Vulgate. And that still doesn’t explain the participle form; not really. Let’s bear in mind that when those Renaissance/Reformation scholars went back to the original Greek texts to create new translations of the NT, they did not have a Liddell & Scott as reference material. They had to call upon their own memories of other Greek texts that they had read, to remember if they’d ever encountered a particular word before; and, if they had, they had to piece out what the word meant in its given context. These 16th Century translations are often described described in terms of heroic effort, and they certainly were; however, we also need to recall that, for these scholars, the Vulgate Bible was as familiar to them as the  KJV or other English-language NT is to us. If they had a problem, if they ran into a situation where the could simply not make sense of the Greek, do we not think that they maybe took a peek at the Latin? Isn’t that exactly what we’re doing here? And you know what? It works.

So it more or less comes down to this: do I trust St Jerome’s understanding of the Greek, or do I suppose that I understand it better than he did? Of course St Jerome forgot more about Greek than I can ever hope to learn, so I think we know the wind is blowing here. The Latin makes sense. Everyone agrees to that. So being a good scholar (I make no claim to that title. Ahem.) it is necessary to know when to stand one’s ground, and when to concede and follow the crowd. This, I think, is an instance of the latter. (*see secondary translation)

46 Beatus ille servus, quem cum venerit dominus eius, invenerit sic facientem.

47 Amen dico vobis quoniam super omnia bona sua constituet eum.

48 ἐὰν δὲ εἴπῃ ὁ κακὸς δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ, Χρονίζει μου ὁ κύριος,

49 καὶ ἄρξηται τύπτειν τοὺς συνδούλους αὐτοῦ, ἐσθίῃ δὲ καὶ πίνῃ μετὰ τῶν μεθυόντων,

50 ἥξει ὁ κύριος τοῦ δούλου ἐκείνου ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἧ οὐ προσδοκᾷ καὶ ἐν ὥρᾳ ἧ οὐ γινώσκει,

51 καὶ διχοτομήσει αὐτὸν καὶ τὸ μέρος αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ὑποκριτῶν θήσει: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

“If that bad slave should say in his heart, ‘My lord tarries’, (49) and he will begin to smite his fellow slaves, he will eat and he will drink with the drunkards, (50) the lord of that slave will come on a day not expected and at an hour which he does not know, (51) and he will cut him in half, and his portion will be places with the hypocrites. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Nope. Not going to update “wailing and gnashing of teeth”.

Nothing really surprising here. It is, however, the epilogue for, or explanation of the bit about the generation will not pass away before this happens. With this, we have traveled rhetorically from the “no one knows, but soon” of 1 Thessalonians to “no one knows. Could be sooner, could be later”.

I’m nearly finished with Josephus. This is fortuitous because it ties in very nicely with this chapter. I will summarise and compare, but there will be a separate post on Josephus before that.

48 Si autem dixerit malus servus ille in corde suo: “Moram facit dominus meus venire”,

49 et coeperit percutere conservos suos, manducet autem et bibat cum ebriis,

50 veniet dominus servi illius in die, qua non sperat, et in hora, qua ignorat,

51 et dividet eum partemque eius ponet cum hypocritis; illic erit fletus et stridor dentium.

Matthew Chapter 24:29-39

We left off with the eagles of Rome gathered ’round the fallen Jerusalem. I still wonder how this got changed to “vultures”. Actually, that’s not true at all. The reasoning is pretty clear, about as subtle as a slap in the face. This is why the whole field of Biblical scholarship seems a bit dodgy at times. Harsh, over-generalized comment, no doubt, but that is the appearance it has at times. Anyway, we’re coming to the close of Mark’s apocalypse. This section and another should do it.

29 Εὐθέως δὲ μετὰ τὴν θλῖψιν τῶν ἡμερῶν ἐκείνων, ὁ ἥλιος σκοτισθήσεται, καὶ ἡ σελήνη οὐ δώσει τὸ φέγγος αὐτῆς, καὶ οἱ ἀστέρες πεσοῦνται ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ αἱ δυνάμεις τῶν οὐρανῶν σαλευθήσονται.

“Immediately after the pressures of those days, the sun will become darkened, and the moon will not give its lustre (also, lit = moonlight) and the stars will fall from the sky ( = heaven, singular) and the powers of the heavens will be roiled.

Whole bunch of stuff in a single sentence. First, the word for the “light” that the moon will not give can specifically mean “moonlight”, or even the light of torches. At base, however, it’s “lustre” rather than “light”, the base of which is “phos/photos”. Second this could be rendered “the stars will fall from heaven”, with the lower-case “h”. In Greek and Latin, the same word (different in each language) can mean either “sky” or “heaven”. In English, of course, no one would say, “Our Father, who art in the Sky”, even though that is a perfectly acceptable translation of the Greek. It’s just that “sky” is wholly secular, “heaven” is ambiguous but leaning secular, and “Heaven” is wholly religious. This is probably a good time to note that Mark talked about the kingdom of God; Matthew, however, talks about the kingdom of the heavens, and the latter is (almost) always plural. [Aside: Matthew does use kingdom of God, at least once; perhaps one of those cases of editorial fatigue?]

I have no plausible explanation for why Matthew uses “heavens”. I have never seen one offered–but that may be entirely my fault; I may just need to get out more. The theory is that he was too devout a Jew to use “God”; to this day many orthodox Jews will not write the word in full. But, as mentioned, there are one or two occasions where he does use kingdom of God. Of course, those could easily have been introduced by a later copyist who was accustomed to that formulation. As for why Matthew uses it in the plural rather than the singular is an entirely different question. In Classical Greek usage, the plural was used largely in a philosophical sense for the universe, or the non-terrestrial domain. IOW, the heavens. So, there is one of those reasons that I’ve never seen, and it’s a pretty good one. A quick and completely non-thorough check of Strong’s Words indicates that upwards of 80% of the plural “heavens” are in Matthew, and virtually all are “kingdom of __”. When Matthew uses the singular form, it’s for quotidian stuff, like “birds of the air”.

Now, let’s think about what this for a moment in terms of how this relates to my thesis of Matthew-as-pagan. On one hand, we have the Jewish reluctance to use “God”; OTOH, we have the use of heavens as found in Greek philosophy. Once again, with a quick glance through Strong and we see that Matthew is pretty consistent in his non-use of God as well as accounting for most of the uses of heavens in the plural. The thing is, Mark and Paul don’t shy away from “God”; some form of the word occurs about a dozen times in the 5 chapters of 1 Thessalonians. And Paul was more zealous than most of his generation. As such, I don’t know how much weight we can put on the first one. And besides, this is something a convert to Judaism could pick up, and behaviour he could easily emulate. Knowing the Greek philosophical usage of the heavens is not something you just pick up. Or, maybe it is.

Something else that stands out, however, is the last bit: the powers of the heavens will be roiled. What are these “powers?” We are so accustomed to the idea that Hell is underground, that we forget (or never realised) that in Antiquity this was not necessarily true. The air was full of all sorts of semi-divine powers that Christians would later call demons; however, I want to avoid that term because it’s anachronistic to the period we’re discussing. I’ve also come across those who claim that this is a reference to astrology, that the powers of the sky are the planets, moon, etc. I don’t necessarily disagree with that assessment, but I don’t think it’s necessary to take it that far. 

But the truly astonishing aspect of this verse is the very first word. For the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its lustre immediately after the events that preceded. If this is a “prediction” based on a past event, then surely Matthew knows that the sun did not become darkened, etc. immediately after the fall of Jerusalem. Not immediately, not ten years, nor twenty…So why is this word in here? It more or less sets the text up as wrong. (And, incidentally, it certainly undercuts my reading of this as a retrospective of the fall of Jerusalem.) Honestly, there is no truly satisfying answer to that question. However, it is very significant to note that this “immediately” does not occur in Mark’s version of this apocalypse. So the word could be an interpolation, like the change to Kingdom of God in Mt 12:28. BBut that’s not really a satisfying explanation, is it? Perhaps not, but it does get me off the hook as far as this being a description of what happened; if Mark didn’t use the term immediately, then this could still be a remembrance. That the term slipped in can be attributed to the intent to create narrative drama–hold on a second.

One question that, I think, is rarely asked about this passage, or this chapter in general, is how those hearing or reading it would have perceived it. Were they all aware of the destruction of Jerusalem? In Mark’s case, it’s very likely. But what about 15 years later, in a place outside of Judea or Galilee? How would they have taken this? Would they have understood it as a reflection backwards, or would they have taken it as a true prophecy? If the latter, then immediately makes sense. In a way, my asking this question is a bit ironic; the prophecy-as-memory has again become a prophecy of the future. I don’t have an answer for this, or not a convincing one, anyway. I do have a gut feeling that those hearing the story may not have seen the reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, or seen the reference as oblique at best. Otherwise, I’m not sure this can be made to make sense. It’s bad scholarship to write off every inconvenient word as an interpolation; it happened, and it happened a lot. At the bottom of nearly every page of my hard-copy Greek NT is a section of notes providing alternate readings for given words; sometimes they take up about a third of the page, sometimes there are only two or three suggested changes. 

A lot of questions remain unresolved.

29 Statim autem post tribulationem dierum illorum, sol obscurabitur, et luna non dabit lumen suum, et stellae cadent de caelo, et virtutes caelorum commovebuntur.

30 καὶ τότε φανήσεται τὸ σημεῖον τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν οὐρανῷ, καὶ τότε κόψονται πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ὄψονται τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐρχόμενον ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ μετὰ δυνάμεως καὶ δόξης πολλῆς:

31 καὶ ἀποστελεῖ τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ μετὰ σάλπιγγος μεγάλης, καὶ ἐπισυνάξουσιν τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων ἀνέμων ἀπ’ ἄκρων οὐρανῶν ἕως[τῶν] ἄκρων αὐτῶν.

“And then will appear the sign of the son of man in the sky, and then all the tribes of the world will smite their breasts (i.e., mourn) and they will see the son of man coming upon the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. (31) And he will send out his angels with large trumpets, and they will collect those having been chosen (elect) from the four winds to the highest heavens until the highest of themselves. 

The last part of this, << ἀπ’ ἄκρων οὐρανῶν ἕως[τῶν] ἄκρων αὐτῶν >>, does not entirely make sense, at least not in its literal sense. However, it’s a reference to Deuteronomy 30:4; in the LXX it literally reads “from the highest of the sky to the highest of the sky”. In both places, it gets translated as “from one end of heaven to the other (end of heaven)”. I suppose. There’s no real harm here; it’s meant to imply thoroughness, so it can work well enough. This is probably more a comment on my low level of comprehension of Greek. Or, it’s a consensus translation. Either way it works. It’s poetic license. As I’m reading a widening circle of Classical Greek, I’m realizing that the NT is not all that special in its consensus translations. Aristotle is much worse, but what Aristotle is trying to describe is much more complex.

More important is the description of the coming son of man. Or Son of Man. I prefer the former because there is no real indication that the title referred to anyone in particular. Nor is there any real evidence that this is a title. It probably is, but we do not know that, and that bears keeping in mind. (If there is evidence for this, please let me know. The only thing worse than ignorance is willful ignorance. Well, there are, of course, a lot of things worse, but take that statement in this context.) With time, it has become Obvious to Everyone that it refers to Jesus. This is certainly not a given. It too, comes from Daniel, where, in a dream, Daniel sees “…one like a son of man coming with the clouds…” (Daniel 7:13) All it really means is an anthropomorphic figure; however, this passage is the obvious precursor, or antecedent, or inspiration for Matthew’s passage here, and Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4. In Daniel, he is an end-times figure; whether he is the Anointed is a subject of much debate. Given that the similarity of wording (in translation, at least; cannot vouch for how this reads in Hebrew), it seems fairly safe to conclude that this iteration of the passage (and in Mark) was meant to evoke the symbolism of Daniel. Now, how that would play for non-Jews is an interesting question. Let’s recall that Paul used the imagery in 1 Thessalonians, who, he tells us explicitly, were former pagans. As such, we cannot assume that they would have understood the reference to Daniel. If they were God-fearers, pagans who were practicing Judaism–to some extent, at least–at the local synagogue, then they may have been aware of Daniel. We don’t know; so it’s a question of whether they were more likely than not to be God-fearers, and if so, were they aware of Daniel? Given the contingency of the latter condition on the former, there is probably less than an even chance that they were aware of the passage in Daniel. One could suppose that Paul used this image specifically because he knew they had heard it, and that would be a very reasonable suggestion. So, if it’s something less than 50/50, it’s probably not much less, in whichever direction.

Now what about Mark? Was his congregation composed mostly of former Jews? or former pagans? Standard NT scholarship would say they were former Jews, and I would say there is a decent chance that this is correct. So they would have gotten–some of them anyway, and to some degree–the reference, and understood that the figure was the coming of the end times. But was it the Anointed? We don’t know, with real certainty, that the one like a human in Daniel was intended to represent the Anointed.

The situation has evolved here in Matthew. Matthew’s audience has been told that Jesus is the Christ from the beginning of the gospel. And, contrary to what I had thought, Matthew has Jesus use the phrase “son of man” quite frequently. I was under the mistaken impression that Matthew didn’t do this, that he almost always used “son of God” whereas Matthew used “son of man”. Sort of like the way Matthew prefers “kingdom of the heavens” over “kingdom of God”. So I started to count up the number of times that Matthew used “son of man”; I quit once I hit a dozen, with twenty or so references remaining. The upshot is that Matthew is not at all averse to using son of man. But, he is just as cagey as Mark in leaving the actual identity of the son of man unexplained. However, while there is no explicit confirmation that the expression refers to Jesus, I would suggest that the cumulative weight of all of them taken together provide a fairly solid confirmation that Jesus is meant. Indeed, when you come down to it, that is why we identify the son of man with Jesus. That being the case, it seems a reasonable conclusion that Matthew’s audience would have understood this passage to refer to the return of Jesus. After all, this had been part of (proto-)Christian belief since Paul. 

30 Et tunc parebit signum Filii hominis in caelo, et tunc plangent omnes tribus terrae et videbunt Filium hominis venientem in nubibus caeli cum virtute et gloria multa;

31 et mittet angelos suos cum tuba magna, et congregabunt electos eius a quattuor ventis, a summis caelorum usque ad terminos eorum.

32 Ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν: ὅταν ἤδη ὁ κλάδος αὐτῆς γένηται ἁπαλὸς καὶ τὰ φύλλα ἐκφύῃ, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος:

33 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ὅταν ἴδητε πάντα ταῦτα, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ἐπὶ θύραις.

34 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη ἕως ἂν πάντα ταῦτα γένηται.

35 ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσεται, οἱ δὲ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσιν.

“From the fig learn the comparison. When the shoot of it becomes tender, and the the leaves have grown, you know that summer is nigh. (33) Also in this way you, when you see these things, you know that the door is nigh. (34) Amen I say to you, that this generation will not pass away until all these things become. (35) The sky and the earth will pass away, but the words of mine will not pass away.

Just a quick note on the Greek. The word that I’ve rendered as “comparison” is “parabolay” (spelling it phonetically). This is the root of both “parabola” and “parable”. The former has a technical meaning in math, but it’s based on the root of the word meaning “comparison” or “juxtaposition”. I note that in some translations–the KJV–this is rendered as “lesson”, but more modern translations leave it as “parable”.  The word we’re most likely looking for is “analogy”. In English that can sort of encompass both senses of the word as translated.

The problem here of course is that Jesus is saying that these times of horror will indicate the coming of the end. Now, when Mark wrote these words, it was a problem. For Matthew writing 1-2 decades later, it should be even more of a problem. This is especially a problem if these words are an after-the-fact prophecy. If it was known that they referred to the destruction of Jerusalem, and this event has receded into the past, then it truly becomes a problem. Unless one defines “generation” in a special way; for example, “this generation” refers to the people born at the current time. So, for Mark, this would mean the people born 70-75 CE. Ergo, when Matthew repeated the words, the generation was now in full adulthood. It had not “passed away”. That, however, strikes me a bit too clever, and it does not really capture the meaning of what is usually meant by “this generation”. Usually, that refers to those who are adults at the time of writing.

But let’s think about this for a moment. I’ve skimmed through a number of commentaries at What I’m about to suggest is perhaps not entirely novel, but I did not see this exact suggestion made; I will assume that my ignorance is exactly that: my ignorance. This may be very well known, but it’s new to me. What is Jesus saying? He’s saying that the generation alive, those who were adults at the time of the horrible occurrences he describes will not pass away before the son of man comes. That is, the clock did not start ticking until the destruction of Jerusalem. As such, for Mark to write these words when the ruins of Jerusalem were (figuratively, at least) still smoldering was not in the least a problem. The people who had seen the times predicted were still very much in their prime. And even when Matthew wrote, 15-20 years later, those who had been in the prime age of their adult years were still only 40-50 years old. Not young, by ancient standards, but they had not lived out their three-score years and ten. And even when Luke repeated them a generation (give or take) later than Matthew, there would still easily have been people alive when Jerusalem was destroyed.

This is important because it means that these words are not an embarrassment to the earliest assemblies of Jesus. Far from it. At some point, however, they did become problematic, which is why the whole idea of the Parousia and even the kingdom sort of fade into the deep background in John’s gospel. By the end of, say, the first quarter of the Second Century, they had become problematic. But their problems need not concern us here. 

I do believe this may be an important point to make. And I am not sure that I have seen it made elsewhere. In fact, I know I have not seen it made elsewhere. However, that does not mean it’s never been made.

What about the last line? Off-hand, it seems to be connected to the whole after-the-fact situation. The horrors described had come to pass; Jerusalem had been destroyed. And Jesus’ words were still around, even if the earth and sky had not–yet–passed away. This is a level of assurance, I think. Letting the audience know that, despite it all, the word of Jesus was eternal.

32 Ab arbore autem fici discite parabolam: cum iam ramus eius tener fuerit, et folia nata, scitis quia prope est aestas.

33 Ita et vos, cum videritis haec omnia, scitote quia prope est in ianuis.

34 Amen dico vobis: Non praeteribit haec generatio, donec omnia haec fiant.

35 Caelum et terra transibunt, verba vero mea non praeteribunt.

36 Περὶ δὲ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης καὶ ὥρας οὐδεὶς οἶδεν, οὐδὲ οἱ ἄγγελοι τῶν οὐρανῶν οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, εἰ μὴ ὁ πατὴρ μόνος.

37 ὥσπερ γὰρ αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ Νῶε, οὕτως ἔσται ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

38 ὡς γὰρ ἦσαν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις [ἐκείναις] ταῖς πρὸ τοῦ κατακλυσμοῦ τρώγοντες καὶ πίνοντες, γαμοῦντες καὶ γαμίζοντες, ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας εἰσῆλθεν Νῶε εἰς τὴν κιβωτόν,

39 καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωσαν ἕως ἦλθεν ὁ κατακλυσμὸς καὶ ἦρεν ἅπαντας, οὕτως ἔσται [καὶ] ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦἀνθρώπου.

“Regarding those days and hours, no one knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the son, but only the father alone. (37) For in this way in the days of Noah, thus will be the arrival of the son of man. (38) For as it was in [those] days, those before the cataclysm {they were} eating and drinking, marrying and being married, until the day came {when} Noah {went into} the chest (= ark). (39) And no one knew until the cataclysm came, and took everyone, in this way will be the arrival of the son of man.

On one hand, Jesus is telling them to watch for the signs that the seasons are turning; OTOH, he’s saying here that no one knows when this will happen. So I guess he’s covered either way.

Also, “cataclysm” is a pure transliteration, but substituting the Latin “C” for the Greek kappa. The Vulgate renders it << ante diluvium >>, literally “before the flood”.

Finally, we discussed this when reading Mark, but it bears repeating. When he says that no one knows except the father, not the angels, nor even the son, Jesus is very clearly telling us that he and the father are not one, John’s later protestation to the contrary. There are a number of fairly inept attempts to soft-pedal this, to deny that the words don’t mean what they say, or they only mean what they say in some very special, super-secret sort of way. My apologies. They mean what they mean. 

Interestingly, the commentator Ellicott agrees with this. He says that the plain meaning is how this should be taken. However, he leaves it at that. He does not go into the implications of this statement. Then the commentator Benson has some more interesting bits to add. He says that the bit about the the son not knowing is omitted in some mss of Mark, and that it’s inserted in some mss traditions of Matthew. Now isn’t that interesting. The omission he credits to later churchmen who wished to remove ammunition from the Arians, who claimed just such a graduated progression of/to the deity. Even more, St Ambrose and other fathers claimed that this line had been inserted by the Arians. I doubt that. There is enough equivocation in Mark that we don’t need to write something off as an interpolation. It is possible, of course; it’s also possible that I doubt this because I want it to be authentic, because it supports one/some of my theories. Contra, I would point to the baptism, and argue that the son not knowing is fully of a piece with the Adoptionist implications of that scene. Was that added by the Adoptionists? Just to clear this up, Benson concludes there is sufficient evidence for the words in Mark that they need to be taken as authentic.

Addendum: One thing I would like to make very clear is the meaning of “Parousia”. This means “coming”, or “arrival”. It is used to described Paul’s coming to the Philippians, so it’s another of these terms, like baptism, that are very neutral in Greek, but have taken on special significance in Christian usage. The thing it does not mean is “return”. As such, the son of man is coming; he is not returning. The implication of this would be that he is not present, nor has ever been present.

This is significant, I think. It requires additional thought, and perhaps a post dedicated to the idea.

36 De die autem illa et hora nemo scit, neque angeli caelorum neque Filius, nisi Pater solus.

37 Sicut enim dies Noe, ita erit adventus Filii hominis.

38 Sicut enim erant in diebus ante diluvium comedentes et bibentes, nubentes et nuptum tradentes, usque ad eum diem, quo introivit in arcam Noe,

39 et non cognoverunt, donec venit diluvium et tulit omnes, ita erit et adventus Filii hominis.


Matthew Chapter 24:15-28

Welcome back. Time to start getting back into the swing of this. However, a fallow period now and again is not such a bad thing. It helps fertilize the soil and, one hopes, promotes new growth. Plus, reading Josephus and doing some more work with Strong’s Words, compiling key terms and seeing how they are used in similar fashion and differently in different passages and authors have both been very helpful. So thank you for your patience. I’m not the best typist on a good day; with a wrist that’s still a bit stiff, well, not having too many good days. But let’s have at it. We are in the midst of what was Mark Chapter 13, the predictions of the coming apocalypse.

15 Οταν οὖν ἴδητε τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Δανιὴλ τοῦ προφήτου ἑστὸς ἐν τόπῳ ἁγίῳ, ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω,

16 τότε οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ φευγέτωσαν εἰς τὰ ὄρη,

17 ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι τὰ ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ,

18 καὶ ὁ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω ὀπίσω ἆραι τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ.

“So when you see the abomination of the solitude written in Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place, let the one recognising (it) understand, (16) then those in Judea will flee towards the mountain, (17) the one upon the house (presumably on the roof?) should not come down to take anything from the house, (18) and the one in the field should not turn back even to take his cloak.  

First, this is almost always translated as “abomination of the desolation.” This is a perfectly fine translation, and I do not want to call it into question. However, groups of words constitute a spectrum of meanings. The word translated as “desolation” is also the root of our word “hermit”. Now this is a close paraphrase of Daniel 9:26-27; it uses the same words for “abomination” and “desolation”. And the Vulgate below uses << abominationem desolationis >>, which I suspect doesn’t need to be translated. So why am I bringing this up? Just to point out that the standard translation of “desolation” is a very conscious choice when bringing it into English. The KJV used this choice of word, for both Daniel and the gospels, and it’s never really been changed. Even the much hipper, more modern versions retain this rather archaic language, even though they jettison “sore afraid”. I suppose it doesn’t matter; desolation is merely solitude taken to the extreme, and I suppose if you’re going to use “abomination”, then extremes are called for.

Since we brought up Daniel, it is worth worth pointing out that the Book of Daniel offers another interesting parallel. The story is set in the time of the Exile, when the Jews–Daniel among them–are still in Babylon. It is the early part of the reign of Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who conquered Babylon and pretty much the entire Near East, so that the Persian Empire eventually extended from Egypt to the Eastern shores of the Aegean Sea and to the edge of Afghanistan. But in the book Daniel offers prophesy about the restoration of the Temple and the coming of the christ. So there is a parallel structure between Daniel and this chapter of the gospels. Daniel is generally considered to have been written late; well after the establishment of the kingdoms of the Diadochoi, so the reign of Cyrus is a setting, just as the French Revolution was a setting for A Tale Of Two Cities. And so, having Jesus prophesy here about events that, for those hearing the words, were already in the past. At least, they were in the past in the real sense that the Jewish War was already over.

As far as that goes. reading Josephus is providing some definite insight into the words here. Especially at the outset of the war, things often happened very quickly, without much warning. Cities were suddenly engulfed by the war, attacked, captured, and burnt to the ground–whether by Romans or Jews–within days. And there was enormous internal strife within cities, with pro- and anti-Roman parties among the Jews, or the Jewish minorities within cities like Damascus were rounded up and massacred. Or the Jews massacred the pro-Roman party of fellow Jews within Jewish cities. So things happened very quickly. As such, taking the time to pick up your cloak, or to come down from the roof to get something from the house could instead of fleeing immediately very well could have meant the difference between life and death for an individual.

15 Cum ergo videritis abominationem desolationis, quae dicta est a Daniele propheta, stantem in loco sancto, qui legit, intellegat:

16 tunc qui in Iudaea sunt, fugiant ad montes;

17 qui in tecto, non descendat tollere aliquid de domo sua;

18 et, qui in agro, non revertatur tollere pallium suum.

19 οὐαὶ δὲ ταῖς ἐν γαστρὶ ἐχούσαις καὶ ταῖς θηλαζούσαις ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις.

20 προσεύχεσθε δὲ ἵνα μὴ γένηται ἡ φυγὴ ὑμῶν χειμῶνος μηδὲ σαββάτῳ:

21 ἔσται γὰρ τότε θλῖψις μεγάλη οἵα οὐ γέγονεν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς κόσμου ἕως τοῦ νῦν οὐδ’ οὐ μὴ γένηται.

22 καὶ εἰ μὴ ἐκολοβώθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι ἐκεῖναι, οὐ κἂν ἐσώθη πᾶσα σάρξ: διὰ δὲ τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς κολοβωθήσονται αἱ ἡμέραι ἐκεῖναι.

“Woe to those who are pregnant, and those who are nursing in those days. (20) Pray that the flight of you is not in winter nor on the Sabbath. (21) For there will be then great trials such as not have happened since the beginning of the world until now, nor will they be. (22) And if those days were not cut short, nor would any flesh be saved. But because of the elect those days will be cut short.

The word that stands out here is << ἐκλεκτοὺς >>, which comes into the Latin as <<electos >>, which is pretty obviously “elect”. Now, this word has a certain meaning in modern democratic societies, and this meaning tends to obscure the base meaning. We say that a candidate is “elected”, meaning s/he got the most votes and won. What we tend to forget is that what has happened is that we have chosen that particular candidate. And that’s what it means here: some of those alive at the time of tribulation were chosen by God. But what does that mean?

In grad school I spent a semester reading about Predestination. This idea of being chosen by God is central to that. The idea is that, if God chooses us, then we can’t be saved on our own. We are only saved because we are chosen. Hence, “amazing Grace, that saved a wretch like me”. I am a wretch because we are all wretches, but God saves some of us anyway through his Grace, coming from the Latin ‘gratia’, which also has the idea of ‘free’, as in having no cost attached. Hence, ‘gratis’. Is that what it means here?

Hard to say. Skimming some of the commentaries, I found some (one, anyway) attempts to identify the elect with the remnant of the true believers. This would make sense, and it would explain the casual use of the term here. And we have to keep in mind the status of the Jews as the chosen people.  So the identity of the two is not difficult to accept. The idea of Predestination is particularly tied to Romans, which means Paul. And Paul told us in Galatians that God set Paul apart ( the functional equivalent of chosen) while the latter was yet in the womb. So there is the sense that the choosing happened before the deserving, or the effort to deserve. That is the fundamental point of Predestination. Again, is that what it means here?

It could, and perhaps should, but I don’t think it does, with apologies to M Calvin. Even in Romans, Paul comes very close to contradicting himself about being elect. It’s one of those terms that gets tossed out without the full implications being thought through in a theological sense. That task was left to the later Patristic thinkers, who had to make sense of what is something of a jumble of ideas. In particular, the idea of being chosen was sorted out by St Augustine, who used the idea of God choosing us to counter the Pelagian doctrine that we as humans could win salvation on merit. Because of Augustine’s argument, Pelagius was condemned as a heretic. And so the idea of being chosen by God, despite our utter lack of deserving to be chosen–in a word, Predestination–entered into Christian orthodoxy. However, it was downplayed for a millennium or more, because it skirted very close to pagan fatalism, and sort of undercut the idea that Christians needed to live a good life. And really, that message is much more deeply ingrained in the narrative of the NT than the idea of being chosen, merits aside.

There is actually another point that nearly slipped by. This is the idea of <<θλῖψις >>, specifically << θλῖψις μεγάλη >>. Coming to grips with this word is very important. At one end of the spectrum and in Classical terms, it simply means ‘pressure’. It’s not a very common word, and it’s most commonly used in medical context, such as ‘pressure on the stomach”. It can also mean “castration”. But it is only in Christian usage that it comes to mean “oppression”, and it will be frequently translated as “persecution” (although there is another word fitting that translation better. More on that later.) Jesus is very clear to say a great pressure, such as has never been seen since the beginning of the world. This leaves little doubt that he’s not talking about pressure in the stomach.

Paul uses the word in 1 Thessalonians. Unfortunately, that was the first book translated, so I was not paying close enough attention to the individual uses of a given word at that point in my career. Understanding the word is important for understanding, as far as we can, the level of persecution suffered by the early Church. We all know the stories, but there is pretty much no evidence for any sort of persecution, and certainly not systemic persecution, of Christians by Romans. There were periods of it later–or, at least, so I’ve been led to believe. I am not familiar enough with the primary sources for the period after the turn of the Second Century to be able to make any sort of fact-based statement. However, for the First Century, there is pretty much nothing, except that Nero blamed the fire in Rome on the followers of Jesus. And even then, we are not told of anything that really resembles persecution, at least as carried out by the Romans. Our real–and pretty much only–source for persecution of the followers of Jesus comes from Paul. So far, aside from the one highly contentious passage about Jesus and another about his brother James, I have come across no mention of his followers in Josephus. But perhaps more on that later.

19 Vae autem praegnantibus et nutrientibus in illis diebus!

20 Orate autem, ut non fiat fuga vestra hieme vel sabbato:

21 erit enim tunc tribulatio magna, qualis non fuit ab initio mundi usque modo neque fiet.

22 Et nisi breviati fuissent dies illi, non fieret salva omnis caro; sed propter electos breviabuntur dies illi.

23 τότε ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ, Ἰδοὺ ὧδε ὁ Χριστός, ἤ, ωδε,μὴ πιστεύσητε:

24 ἐγερθήσονται γὰρ ψευδόχριστοι καὶ ψευδοπροφῆται, καὶ δώσουσιν σημεῖα μεγάλα καὶ τέρατα ὥστε πλανῆσαι, εἰ δυνατόν, καὶ τοὺς ἐκλεκτούς:

25 ἰδοὺ προείρηκα ὑμῖν.

“Then someone may say, ‘Look, there is the Christ’, but don’t believe him. (24) For false-christs and false prophets will be raised, and they will give great signs and wonders so that they will make err, if they are able, even the elect. (25) Look, I have spoken to you before (i.e., warned)

The point that leaps out from this passage is “there is the Christ”. Why? Matthew has told us, from the very beginning, that Jesus is the Christ. And yet, people in a later time will say, “there is the Christ”. On the one hand, this could be ascribed to the people who were not Jesus’ followers did not believe Jesus was the anointed, so of course they were still looking for him. This is certainly a fair point. But who is looking for the anointed? Pagans? No, Jews. As such, this passage describes the reactions of Jews to these times of tribulations. When did Jews suffer such a great affliction? During the Jewish rebellion. When did people proclaim themselves to be the anointed? Especially during the rebellion. This is what is known as internal evidence: almost all writing contains certain assumptions and relates to certain circumstances that are peculiar to a particular period of time. The internal evidence of this whole chapter points to the period of the rebellion.

23 Tunc si quis vobis dixerit: “Ecce hic Christus” aut: “Hic”, nolite credere.

24 Surgent enim pseudochristi et pseudoprophetae et dabunt signa magna et prodigia, ita ut in errorem inducantur, si fieri potest, etiam electi.

25 Ecce praedixi vobis.

26 ἐὰν οὖν εἴπωσιν ὑμῖν, Ἰδοὺ ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἐστίν, μὴ ἐξέλθητε: Ἰδοὺ ἐν τοῖς ταμείοις, μὴ πιστεύσητε:

27 ὥσπερ γὰρ ἡ ἀστραπὴ ἐξέρχεται ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ φαίνεται ἕως δυσμῶν, οὕτως ἔσται ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

28 ὅπου ἐὰν ᾖ τὸ πτῶμα, ἐκεῖ συναχθήσονται οἱ ἀετοί.

“So if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the desert’, don’t go there; (if they say) ‘Look, he is in the storeroom’, do not believe. (27) For even as the lightening comes from the east and appears until setting of the sun (probably = the west), in this way will be the coming of the son of man. (28) Where may be the corpse/ruin, there will be gathered eagles.

The last bit is rather odd. << οἱ ἀετοί >> means ‘the eagles’; but this verse is almost universally translated as “where the corpse is, there the vultures will be gathered”. The Latin is also very clearly “eagles”. This is such an important symbol of Rome, that there is no way the word was ever used to mean vulture.

Hold on: Flash of Insight! Each Roman legion carried a standard that had the figure of an eagle on it. In fact, the standard was referred to as “the eagle”. When Marcus Crassus and his army were annihilated by the Parthians, they lost their eagles, the standards of the three legions that were destroyed; the loss of a legionary eagle (standard) was considered a horrible point of shame. Now, we all know that vultures congregate at a corpse, so the idea translating this as “vultures” makes sense. But I think it’s dead wrong. The evangelist is not saying that vultures will gather; he is specifically saying that it will be eagles, as in the standards of Roman legions.

Well, it turns out I’m not exactly the first to make the connexion with eagles and legions, to infer that this refers to Roman armies. I’m probably not as high as the thousandth, but at least my instincts are clear and accurate. There is a lot of speculation that the corpse, or carcass, was meant to imply Jerusalem. A number of people don’t like this, but I think it’s hard to avoid. The eagles (Roman legions) did indeed gather around the ruins of Jerusalem. Because note that the word translated as “carcass” by most modern editions, at root simply means “fall”. Hence, we have a fallen body, which is a corpse, which, if left unburied, becomes a carcass. But it can also mean a ruin, as in a fallen city. I chose ruin in the initial translation to indicate the range of the word, but it turns out to be a good choice. The eagles did gather around the ruin. And once again, we find the pernicious “consensus” translation, where the meaning is chosen, to some extent, by what the translators want the passage to mean.

In the half-dozen commentaries I skimmed, this reading of the eagles around the ruin (of Jerusalem) is offered as the “other” interpretation, with the understanding this “other” interpretation is decidedly inferior. This is inferior because it pretty much–and very clearly–indicates that this section was written with full knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem as a past event. That is, this is not prophecy, but memory.

26 Si ergo dixerint vobis: “Ecce in deserto est”, nolite exire; “Ecce in penetralibus”, nolite credere;

27 sicut enim fulgur exit ab oriente et paret usque in occidentem, ita erit adventus Filii hominis.

28 Ubicumque fuerit corpus, illuc congregabuntur aquilae.

Matthew Chapter 24:1-14

This is a very long chapter, but the worst part is that it has no really logical break-points. This is the prediction of the tribulations “to come”. By this point, my readers are probably aware that I  (strongly) believe that these predictions–not just here, but in Mark as well–were written sometime after the destruction of the Temple n 69/70. This chapter in Matthew is based on Mark 13, and that reads a lot like the blurb on the back of my Penguin edition of Josephus’ The Jewish War. It was a horrible time; in some ways, it was the end of the age, if your world was focused on the Second Temple and the way of life that the temple created. Much of this material was in Mark; a comparison to see was was added or subtracted may provide some insights into the development of the tradition.


1 Καὶ ἐξελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ τοῦ ἱεροῦ ἐπορεύετο, καὶ προσῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπιδεῖξαι αὐτῷ τὰς οἰκοδομὰς τοῦ ἱεροῦ:

2 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐ βλέπετε ταῦτα πάντα; ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ ἀφεθῇ ὧδε λίθος ἐπὶ λίθον ὃς οὐ καταλυθήσεται.

And going out, Jesus left the Temple, and coming towards him his disciples pointed out the structure of the Temple. (2) He answering, said to them, “Do you not see all of this? Amen I say to you, not a stone will be left upon stone which is not destroyed.”

This is more or less right out of Mark: not a stone left upon stone. There are those who would date Mark to 65, which is before the destruction of the Temple; offhand, I do not know how they explain this passage. How is this not a hindsight prophecy? Naturally I say that writing from the perspective of history; of course it’s entirely possible if writing from the perspective of theology. But, since I’m writing history, I cannot treat this as a legitimate prediction based on divine foreknowledge. If you believe that, I simply cannot argue with you because we really don’t share enough common ground for a legitimate discussion. That’s neither bad nor good.

The part that seems to clinch the hindsight aspect is the specificity of this: he’s talking about the Temple, which was indeed razed to the ground. Jerusalem in its totality was not obliterated, the way Carthage and Corinth had been, but the Temple was. 

One thing that has occurred to me is a novel way to look at the puzzle of when Mark wrote. I would listen to an argument that has the bulk of Mark written in 65 (give or take), but then posits that his Chapter 13 was written after 70, and inserted as an addendum, just as Chapter 16 was added later. Except there is no reason why Chapter 13 could not have been written by Mark (or the original author of that gospel whom we conveniently call “Mark”). After all, it was a span of less than ten years; the original author could conceivably still been alive to witness the destruction. But this is all off-the-cuff speculation; I have not begun to do the hard work of looking into what such a suggestion would entail, or if it’s remotely possible from stylistic or other terms.

As for alterations, Matthew has changed things, but they are pretty minimal. The disciples don’t get a line as they did in Mark, but the mood has been altered a bit. Here, Jesus puts the question into the negative: do you not see? From this I get the idea that Matthew is trying to get across that Jesus is literally seeing the future state, the time when the Temple is not there.

1 Et egressus Iesus de templo ibat, et accesserunt discipuli eius, ut ostenderent ei aedificationes templi;

2 ipse autem respondens dixit eis: “Non videtis haec omnia? Amen dico vobis: Non relinquetur hic lapis super lapidem, qui non destruetur”.

3 Καθημένου δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ Ὄρους τῶν Ἐλαιῶν προσῆλθον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ κατ’ ἰδίαν λέγοντες, Εἰπὲ ἡμῖν πότε ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον τῆς σῆς παρουσίας καὶ συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.

He having seated himself on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him in private, saying, “Tell us when these things will be, and its signs coming and the end of the age.”

Again, no significant changes, except that here it’s all the disciples while in Mark it’s the holy trinity of Peter, James, and John who come to Jesus. That makes a bit more sense if they came “in private”. But this might be more telling than it appears at first sight. Recall that I do not believe Jesus had an inner circle of Twelve Apostles, as we are used to thinking of them. Rather, Jesus had an inner circle of Peter and James, who was probably his brother. John is not mentioned at all by Paul, so I have some serious suspicions about him, too. By having “all the disciples” come to him, this increases the activities of the Twelve, solidifying their place a bit more in the tradition; this, however, is a bit of a stretch on my part. Perhaps “the disciples” was just easier than writing out the three names. Or, maybe Matthew didn’t have his copy of Mark at hand, and didn’t remember which disciples asked the question.

On this question of apostles, it’s worth noting that Mark and Matthew use the noun form of the word exactly once each. Strong’s Words is a very handy tool for checking things like this. Paul uses the word as a noun several-to-numerous times.  Paul calls himself an apostle, but the absence of the word in Mark and Matthew should give us pause. It has caught on by the time Luke wrote; apparently, the idea of Jesus have a group of Twelve apostles had lodged itself into the tradition by then, where it hadn’t when M&M wrote. I would suggest this group of Twelve–to which Paul refers specifically–was an innovation of James.

Actually, there is another important change. Note how they ask for the sign(s), which is also in Mark. But Mark does not use the expression “the end of the age”. That Matthew adds this is, I believe, very significant. What that significance is, or entails, is wholly another question. I suggested that, in some ways, the destruction of the Temple and the sack of Jerusalem did mark the end of an age. One has to realise that the end of an “age” is not at all the same thing as the end of the world. The Apocalypse of John has conditioned us to thinking in terms that more or less equate the two, but that is not in the least necessary. “Ages” all the time; the Stone Age (both old and new) ended, as did the Bronze Age. Golden Ages by the dozen have come and gone with tiresome regularity. This is all to say that the “age” in this sense, is more abstract than we tend to think of such things, and altogether less final. Assuming that the Temple destroyed in 69/70 was indeed built around, or just after, the time of Cyrus of Persia, then the Age of the Second Temple (which assumes a first) had lasted for half a millennium. That is a long stretch of time by any standards. The same stretch of time in our world would take us back to the 1500s, and there are very few institutions still around that existed back then, at least in the Western world. The English monarchy is one, albeit in a form perhaps unrecognizable to those alive when QEI sat on the throne. So an institution of comparable antiquity that perhaps played a larger role in the lives of ordinary Jews than the monarchy did just vanished. So yes, absolutely an age had ended. And I don’t know that we need to go any further with that word than that. I don’t think we need to look for eschatology or end-times. Perhaps this may put a different sort of spin on the way we read things?

3 Sedente autem eo super montem Oliveti, accesserunt ad eum discipuli secreto dicentes: “Dic nobis: Quando haec erunt, et quod signum adventus tui et consummationis saeculi?”.

4 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς πλανήσῃ:

5 πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Χριστός, καὶ πολλοὺς πλανήσουσιν.

6 μελλήσετε δὲ ἀκούειν πολέμους καὶ ἀκοὰς πολέμων: ὁρᾶτε, μὴ θροεῖσθε: δεῖ γὰρ γενέσθαι, ἀλλ’ οὔπω ἐστὶν τὸ τέλος.

And answering, Jesus said to them, “Look, lest you wander off in error. (5) For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the messiah’, and many will wander off in error. (6) You will hear wars and rumours of wars; look, do not be disturbed. For this must happen, but it is not yet the end.

The words << πλανήσῃ >>, and << πλανήσουσιν >> have been rendered here as “wander off in error”. The root of the word, transliterated as “plan-” is the basis for our word “planet”. In Greek, it means “to wander”, the Greeks called the visible planets in the sky “wanderers” because they did not follow an invariable track across the heavens the way stars do. From the idea of wandering, came the idea of wandering off the course of correctness, so it came to mean “to err”. So, to capture both senses of the original, I’ve rendered it “to wander in error”.

Upon consideration, we should find the bit about being the messiah/christ a bit odd when used in this gospel. If Jesus is the Christ, as Matthew has told us countless times right from the start, how can someone come in Jesus’ name and still be the Christ, since Jesus is the Christ? And this is not truly affected by the fact that those who will come will only claim to be the Anointed. The answer is he can’t; if Jesus has come as the Christ, then subsequent claimants will obviously be lying, and the disciples, at least, will know this full well. The sticking point is the “in my name”. If Jesus had not been accepted as the messiah, then it stands to reason that others who did not know Jesus could be fooled; on the other hand, if Jesus had not been fully or universally accepted as the Christ, even by his followers, then someone could come later and and those followers could believe a pseudo-christ. 

Here it is important to note that this passage is straight out of Mark. As such, this is yet another indication that Jesus was not considered the Christ in at least one of Mark’s sources. I would suggest that this line of the tradition would lead to the Didache. Remember in Galatians, how Paul excoriates the stupid Galatians for falling victim to another gospel. One wonders if this was the other gospel? The core message of that gospel, possibly, was that Jesus was not the messiah, and it was the mysterious Son of Man who would come as the Messiah. Paul of course, is having none of this. According to the message revealed directly to him by God, through Jesus (as per Galatians), Jesus was the Messiah, and his being raised from the dead had proven this. It is so, so tempting to see James as the author of this other gospel, but that is, alas, thinking wishfully. Paul and James had their disagreements, which appears to be based on the degree to which pagans have to follow Jewish customs (circumcision, dietary restrictions, etc). They were able to reach a mutually agreed-upon deal. It seems very unlikely that they would have been able to work out such a modus vivendi had the issue been something so basic as whether Jesus had been the Christ. Hence, we have the parallel tradition that, eventually, produced the Didache, in which Jesus’ divinity is questionable at best.

The other thing to note here is Jesus saying, even after the things described had transpired, it is not “the end”. The first question is, is this in Mark? The second question is, the end of what? The answer to #1 is “sort of”. Mark gets around to talking about “before the end, the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations”; we’ll see if that turns up later here in Matthew. The answer to #2 is a bit less certain. Peeking ahead, it appears to mean “the end of the disturbances”.

4 Et respondens Iesus dixit eis: “ Videte, ne quis vos seducat.

5 Multi enim venient in nomine meo dicentes: “Ego sum Christus”, et multos seducent.

6 Audituri enim estis proelia et opiniones proeliorum. Videte, ne turbemini; oportet enim fieri, sed nondum est finis.

7 ἐγερθήσεται γὰρ ἔθνος ἐπὶ ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν, καὶ ἔσονται λιμοὶ καὶ σεισμοὶ κατὰ τόπους:

8 πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων.

9 τότε παραδώσουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς θλῖψιν καὶ ἀποκτενοῦσιν ὑμᾶς, καὶ ἔσεσθε μισούμενοι ὑπὸ πάντων τῶν ἐθνῶν διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου.

“For people will be raised against people, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in places. (8) All of these things begin the sorrows of childbirth. (9) Then they will give you over to the trials, and they will kill you, and you will be hated by all the peoples because of my name. 

First, the word << ἔθνος >>, “ethnos” is often rendered as “nation will rise against nation”. Even the KJV uses that translation. However, “nation” is wildly anachronistic for this period; it could be argued that it should not be applied before the 15th Century, at the very earliest, and only then to England and France (I would consider Spain and Portugal, too). And, as should be obvious, it’s the root of “ethnic”, so “people” really captures the term better. The idea is a linguistic group, or perhaps a cultural group. “The Greeks” would be an ethnos, or The Hebrews; and The Greeks were divided into three subdivisions based on language variations (Ionian, Dorian, Aeolian), but they considered themselves to be a single unity based on the combination of both language and culture. From there, the different groups were subdivided into tribes, so an ethnos is a bigger aggregate than a tribe. Despite considering themselves to being a single ethnos, the invasion of Persia showed that defending Greek-dom against the foreign invader was not a priority for a lot of the Greek city-states (poleis); but Panhellenism certainly existed as a theoretical concept, even if there was never a serious attempt to put it into practice.

Hence, here we have “people vs. people”.

Two minor points: people will be raised against people. This is a passive construction. It’s very similar to “Jesus was raised from the dead”. Based on this, I need to take another look at my contention that “raised from the dead” may not have the implications I have been saying it does. Second, the text says “famines and earthquakes”. My modern translation has “famines and earthquakes”. The KJV has “famines and pestilence and earthquakes”. Not sure where the extra woe has come from. Doesn’t appear to be due to a variant ms tradition, so I honestly don’t know.

The final point comes with the word <<  θλῖψιν >>. It transliterates to “thlipsis”, but that’s irrelevant because there’s no connexion to anything in English. We’ve run across the word a few times, or more than a few times. Paul used the word in Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and 1 Corinthians. Mark used it. The problem is, it’s another of those words that we really don’t know what it means. In Classical Greek, it means “pressure”, or even “castration”. The Great Scott tells us that, metaphorically, it means “oppression” or “affliction”. The problem with this latter is that all the cites are from the Bible, whether the NT or the LXX. This is very important because it brings up the issue of just how seriously the followers of Jesus were…bothered, or harassed, and if the word “persecute” is at all legitimate and, if so, to what degree. The Roman sources for this sort of thing are very scanty, while the Christian sources are plentiful and lurid and worse than anything Edgar Allen Poe wrote. People being flayed, people being roasted between two grills, disemboweled, etc. And for centuries, this latter account was accepted as factual. Now, to be honest, the Romans did not necessarily record all the heinous things they did, largely because they did so many of them.

The crimes of Caligula and Nero and (possibly) Tiberius are well enough documented, but how accurate are they? Nero is said to have falsely blamed the followers of Chrestus for the fire in Rome, and used this as a pretext to arrest and torture them. However, the descriptions of these atrocities do not sound like sustained persecution. People were tortured to implicate others, they were executed in heinous and creative ways. The problem is, Tacitus was prone to exaggerating the crimes committed by all emperors; he was a staunch Republican, and believed that the Emperor was a blight and a cancer on the Roman body politic, so he was willing to pass on the most awful stuff about even the Divine Augustus. Second, this does not sound like official Imperial policy, nor something that lasted very long. It was entirely sufficient to set all sorts of stories in motion, which have come down to us and which have been taught as completely accurate.

One problem arises in a letter of Pliny the Younger. As a provincial governor Pliny wrote to Trajan in about 112, asking for guidance on how to handle Christians. Given this, we can infer with great certainty that there was no policy in place. Nero may have tortured and killed dozens, but after a bit he was on to something else. He got bored easily. Given this, it’s hard to see persecution to any great degree by the Romans. This is another reason I find it difficult to believe that Jesus was any kind of zealot or revolutionary. Nero knows about followers of Christus, but he doesn’t know much about them. Had Jesus been executed for sedition, Jesus would not have been so completely unknown in the Roman world. Tacitus says they were generally hated for the heinous rites (unspecified) these followers practiced. The thing is, the followers met in secret, they did not tell their practices to any that were not part of the group, and so outsiders were left to imagine all sorts of things. The really ironic, or peculiar, or even wryly amusing thing is that the same set of charges that were leveled against Christians during the Empire were, in turn, leveled by Christians against Jews, witches, heretics…any group whose practices were not generally known. And I mean the very same charges, and they were leveled at the hordes of suburban devil worshipers who were running rampant in the 1980s.

So, what did Paul, and what did Mark and Matthew mean by this word? If you take it in conjunction with the warning that the disciples will be handed over and killed, it’s really hard not to see the setting of the 60s here, the revolt against Rome, which to some, no small extent was a Jewish civil war, with collaborators like Josephus assisting the Romans. Again, there was plenty of betrayal, plenty of handing over, plenty of executions. The problem is, that is not, not really, what the Greek word means. Interestingly, the Latin, <<tribulationem>>, obviously the root of “tribulation”, is a very uncommon word in Classical Latin. My portable Cassell’s Latin dictionary doesn’t have the word at all. The Lewis & Short (the Latin equivalent of Liddel & Scott), presents it as ecclesiastical Latin, that is, Latin used by the Church, and the first cite is Tertullian, one of the Christian fathers who lived in the 2nd/3rd century. St Jerome didn’t create the Vulgate until the turn of the 5th Century. IOW, we have no real clue what this word meant as any of the writers of the NT used it.

Anyway, this is a topic too big for the current forum. I will attempt to deal with it in a more satisfactory manner in the Summary.

7 Consurget enim gens in gentem, et regnum in regnum, et erunt fames et terrae motus per loca;

8 haec autem omnia initia sunt dolorum.

9 Tunc tradent vos in tribulationem et occident vos, et eritis odio omnibus gentibus propter nomen meum.

10 καὶ τότε σκανδαλισθήσονται πολλοὶ καὶ ἀλλήλους παραδώσουσιν καὶ μισήσουσιν ἀλλήλους:

11 καὶ πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐγερθήσονται καὶ πλανήσουσιν πολλούς:

12 καὶ διὰ τὸ πληθυνθῆναι τὴν ἀνομίαν ψυγήσεται ἡ ἀγάπη τῶν πολλῶν.

13 ὁ δὲ ὑπομείνας εἰς τέλος οὗτος σωθήσεται.

14 καὶ κηρυχθήσεται τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ εἰς μαρτύριον πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, καὶ τότε ἥξει τὸ τέλος.

“Then many will be made to stumble, and they will hand over others and hate others. (11) and many false-prophets will raise themselves and they will (make) many (people) wander off in error. (12) And because the they will increase the lawlessness, the love of many will be made cold. (13) The last one standing, he will be saved. (14) And they will preach the good news of the kingdom in the whole community as witness to all the peoples, and then will come the end”.

It’s interesting that I just read Tacitus’ description of the persecutions of Nero. It sure sounds a lot like this. Arrest a few, torture them, get them to give you names (guilty or not; who cares?), arrest them, lather, rinse, repeat. Those being tortured are those who stumble and the names given are those new ones who will be hated. The false prophets part is where I wish my knowledge of Josephus was a little more current. I have the sense that this was a problem during the Revolt, but I’m not sure enough of my facts to state this with any certainty. Which is a shame, because it would certainly bolster my case that this was written by Mark after the sack of Jerusalem. And the part about the increased lawlessness leading to a brutalizing of people so that their capacity to love is crippled, this is sure true about what happens to people under dire stress. They do things, and become things that they never could have imagined.

Here’s a thought. Was this written, originally, by someone who had read Tacitus? The problem with that is the Annales was not written until the beginning of the 2nd Century. Did Tacitus read Mark? Or Luke? Doubtful. 

So far, all of this was in Mark, with only minimal changes. So too is the “last one standing”. Yes, that’s a bit more free than I usually provide, but it gets the point across. This sentence raises a horde of problems: remaining (the literal translation rather than standing) where?; “saved” in what way?; preach to everyone? I honestly don’t even have any sort of speculation about the last one remaining. Was this conceived as a war of attrition between the followers and the persecutors, so that it literally means “remaining alive”? That would work with the idea of this survivor then venturing out to preach the good news to the rest of the peoples. And it would also shed light on “being saved”. Here, I think it means “the survivor’s physical life” will be saved, in the way a lifeguard saves the life of someone drowning. IOW, this is not terribly metaphorical, but meant to be taken fairly literally. And it echoes Mark in stating that the gospel has to reach all peoples before the end will/can come. And here, “end” probably means “end”, as in final. But it must be noted that ‘end times’ and ‘end of an age’ are not at all necessarily the same thing. 

There is probably more here, but it eludes me at the moment. And trying to do a line-by-line with Mark on this probably isn’t fruitful at this point. More on that as we develop.

10 Et tunc scandalizabuntur multi et invicem tradent et odio habebunt invicem;

11 et multi pseudoprophetae surgent et seducent multos.

12 Et, quoniam abundavit iniquitas, refrigescet caritas multorum;

13 qui autem permanserit usque in finem, hic salvus erit.

14 Et praedicabitur hoc evangelium regni in universo orbe in testimonium omnibus gentibus; et tunc veniet consummatio.