Category Archives: Chapter 27

Summary Matthew Chapter 27

In some ways it seems like there really shouldn’t be too much to say about this chapter. It starts with the trial before Pilate, and ends with the women taking note of where Jesus’ tomb is. The amount of theology in the chapter is fairly minimal. There are some topics that crop up, like who the women were, or whether the Resurrection Story was invented before or after Paul, but the context of this chapter is not necessarily where these topics are best discussed. The Resurrection Story really belongs in the next chapter.

Then, too, is the idea of the historicity of the events described. With a few, very minor, exceptions, there is probably nothing in this chapter that has any basis in history. Most assuredly almost none of the events described occurred in any real-life setting. The story we are told is pure drama, with perhaps a didactic undertone, that’s designed to present the situation in a very particular way. There is almost nothing in the chapter that we’ve just read that struck me as even vaguely realistic. Pilate executed a lot of people according to Josephus; and remember, Josephus was a Roman collaborator and wannabe, not the sort that’s likely to darken the picture overmuch. So the idea that Pilate had to be coaxed into condemning Jesus is absurd on the face of it. Then there is the whole thing with Barabbas, which is attested absolutely nowhere else. I suspect Simon of Cyrene was devised by Mark’s circle as an introduction for Rufus and Alexander. That Jesus was tried by Pilate personally is highly unlikely; he didn’t have the time to try every common criminal that he had crucified.

And really, in the end, that’s what it comes down to: why was Jesus killed? We keep coming back to that. A part of the reason this happens, and perhaps a big part, is that the Passion Narrative was designed to answer that very question. The problem is that it doesn’t answer it convincingly. We are supposed to believe that the Temple authorities were jealous or resentful (phthonos) of Jesus. Why? According to the narrative, he spent about a week of his life in Jerusalem. It seems unlikely that they had reason even to be aware of him, let alone resentful and jealous, of Jesus before he set foot in Jerusalem, and even then the narrative is hard-pressed to come up with a reason. The idea that it was due to Jesus’ disruption of the commerce is wholly inconsistent with the rest of the narrative. We are supposed to believe that Jesus “cleansed the Temple” and then came back the next day and held a civil, if somewhat strained, discussion with members of the priesthood. Had Jesus caused a ruckus, he would have been arrested on the spot. He wasn’t. Based on what Josephus said in The Jewish War, the Temple authorities may have been ceded the power by Rome to execute Jesus themselves. Instead, we have to go through this elaborate and convoluted story to explain how the Jews were really responsible for Jesus’ death, even though the Romans obviously carried it out. The Jews did not crucify.

So why?

Perhaps the only thing more embarrassing to the followers of Jesus than his execution, was the idea that they could not explain why he was crucified. Bad enough that the Messiah, the Anointed of God, had been executed; that they cannot provide a reason for this, that it happened just because, is truly squirm-inducing. I do believe it happened, that he was crucified; there truly is no reason to make that up. But why? That’s really the issue. That we don’t know leaves us with a choice: either the later (say, a decade after his death) did not know, or they did not say. Which is worse? Either of these, I think, indicates a pretty trivial cause. If they did not know, it means that it was something that probably just happened; Jesus was in the wrong place at the wrong time and pissed off the wrong Roman. Case closed. That’s about all it took. Or, if they did know and didn’t say, to me this leads to a pretty similar conclusion: they didn’t want to tell us because it was so trivial, not the sort of thing that should lead to the death of a cosmically-significant individual.

There is a case to be made that the story we have was meant to cover up Jesus’ revolutionary tendencies, to exculpate him in the eyes of the Romans after the destruction of the Temple. On the surface this seems to have a certain amount of plausibility, especially since that is the purpose of the Passion Narrative, to throw the blame on the Jews. And this would fit in with the whole “King of the Jews” accusation, and tie in with the concept of the Messiah as a military leader; unfortunately, I don’t think it really stands up under too much scrutiny. There is no indication of unrest in Judea or Galilee in the 30s. It is possible that Jesus tried, but failed so miserably that no one considered it worth mentioning. In which case we’re back to the situation of the previous paragraph, in which Jesus is just some common low-life, too insignificant to be able to cause any real damage. Bad enough that he was a revolutionary, but worse is that he was a total failure. I’m thinking Life Of Brian levels of ineptitude, someone who could not even be considered dangerous, but instead was simply risible. Ouch.

We have to keep coming back to Paul. Was he aware of the Passion Narrative in anything like the form we have it? Paul was aware of the idea of the Last Supper, and he puts the blessing and sharing of the bread and wine on the night before he was arrested. Is this the historical kernel? Did the evangelists get it from Paul? Or was this the one part of the whole story that has a basis in fact? Either is possible, and the latter seems even likely. But this has an implication: if Paul knew that the dinner with the disciples happened on the night before he was arrested, we might reasonably infer that Paul may have known the cause of the arrest? Admittedly, that’s a pretty big jump, but it’s not impossible, either. The real problem with Paul is that he pretty much makes stuff up and then ascribes it to revelation. He did not learn his gospel from humans, but directly from God through Jesus. So did he hear about the arrest of Jesus, and the implementation of the Last Supper via human tradition or through another revelation? Given Paul’s emphasis on the latter, I would tend to suspect that his version of the Last Supper came through revelation. It’s worth remembering that Paul did not spend a lot of time hanging out with established communities; he founded them. And he spent a fair bit of time in Asia (the Roman province thereof; modern Turkey) and Greece, and not so much in Syria, Judea, or Galilee. As such, he was out of the loop of the main sources of tradition. That’s not to say he never heard any of the oral stories told, but we’re better off to assume that he learned less, rather than more from such traditions. The result of all this speculation is that, to me anyway, it seems unlikely that Paul really had any concrete information, and that what he’s sharing is more of his own personal insight. From there, I think we can safely infer that he probably did not know the reason for Jesus’ execution, in part because he really would have considered such fleshly concerns to be, frankly, irrelevant. Didn’t know, didn’t care, didn’t matter. What mattered was that Jesus was raised from the dead, and not the series of events that led to his death.

So, for a lot of reasons, the entire Passion Narrative seems pretty much a pious fiction. There is almost nothing that we can take away from the story and feel confident that it rests on solid–or even shaky–historical foundations. So given that this story consumed one long chapter and one very long chapter of the gospel, what have we gained? Since we’ve sorted through all the detritus and rejected most of it, there is one very, very important bit of information that Matthew presents that we must count as among one of the more significant revelations of the gospel. I refer to the acceptance of blood guilt by “the Jews”, the crowd that was supposedly clamoring for Jesus’ execution on Friday morning. Of course, none of this happened, but Matthew added the acceptance of this guilt, on themselves and their children, and this has had an enormous and decidedly horrific influence on subsequent history. Why did Matthew do this? Obviously, to ensure that the Romans could not, or would not be blamed. But the thing is, it’s no longer the immediate aftermath of the Jewish War as it was when Mark wrote; things had settled, a new generation of Romans and Jews had come to the fore, the Temple was gone, so much of the animosity that Romans had felt for Jews had probably dissipated. So why did Matthew feel compelled to take the whole absolution of the Romans and assumption of guilt by the Jews to this entirely new level?

That question, of course, can never be answered with any degree of real satisfaction. All I can do is offer my opinions on the matter. First, I believe that this is, if not proof positive, then a strong indication that Matthew, indeed, began life as a pagan. I believe he was a God-fearer, who studied at a synagogue, but who then turned to Jesus and felt a wave of anger at the Jews for having rejected Jesus. The “zeal of a convert” is a well-worn truism; think of what might happen i that zealousness turned sour. That is, I think, what we’re seeing in that statement of Matthew, that Crossan also recognizes as extremely unfortunate and as a root cause of so much subsequent anti-Semitisim. “Let it be on us and our children” is the curse of a bitter and angry man. I don’t think one turns on one’s own background and heritage with such a degree of savagery. I think this kind of vitriol is reserved for The Other.

And that, I believe, is the message we should take from the Passion Story.


Matthew Chapter 27:55-66

55 ησαν δὲ ἐκεῖ γυναῖκες πολλαὶ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν θεωροῦσαι, αἵτινες ἠκολούθησαν τῷ Ἰησοῦ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας διακονοῦσαι αὐτῷ:

56 ἐν αἷς ἦν Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρία ἡ τοῦἸακώβου καὶ Ἰωσὴφ μήτηρ καὶ ἡ μήτηρ τῶν υἱῶν Ζεβεδαίου.

There were many women from afar beholding, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, attending to him. (56) Among them was Mary the Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Conspicuous in her absence is Mary, mother of Jesus. Nor was she there in Mark, nor will she be there in Luke, although she is certainly present in John, inspiring any number of beautiful pieces of music entitled “Stabat Mater”–the mother standing at the foot of the cross. Mark says that the second Mary is the mother of James the Younger and Joses, although it’s possible that the latter is a variation of Joseph. Luke does not name the women until they are at the empty tomb when he names Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of James. John specifies that “his (Jesus’) mother” stood at the cross with her sister, named Mary who was married to Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene. Through it all, Mary Magdalene is the only one who remains constant. That is a very interesting bit of information. Why? Why her? Why her, over and above the mother of Jesus? First of all, let’s dispense with the whole prostitute thing. There is no biblical evidence for that. This designation sounds like a slur invented by later tradition to discredit the Magdalene’s role, whatever that was.

I have read suggestions that perhaps Mary M was sort of Jesus’ patron, or patroness. That is, she helped support Jesus financially so that he could spend his time preaching and teaching, and not have to waste time making money. There is one thing in conjunction with this: men married when they were a bit older, but women were usually married right after puberty to assure their virginity. They didn’t have time to be sexually active before they got married off, so the groom could be reasonably certain he was getting a virgin. (This is a large part of the reason that noblewomen in the Middle Ages were often sequestered in a convent right until the day of the wedding.) So an older man and a young girl is a recipe for young widows. Paul was very solicitous about such women, exhorting them not to remarry. Why? Because if they did remarry, their property would transfer to the new husband. If they didn’t marry, they could use the money to support the fledgling church. Was the Magdalene such a widow? A woman of some means? It’s not out of the question. I don’t put much stock in the idea that she and Jesus were married. Had that been the case, I believe the later tradition would have gone much, much further, and been way more vicious than just claiming she was a prostitute. I don’t see any real problems with her being a sponsor of Jesus. It’s embarrassing enough for Jesus to be supported by a woman for later tradition to invent the prostitute thing, but not so blatant that she had to be thoroughly discredited and perhaps obliterated from the record. This would certainly help explain how and why she had followed Jesus from Galilee.

After the Magdalene, we are left with what author John Green would call “An Abundance of Marys” (My apologies to Mr Green). The place to start is the discrepancies among the evangelists. Why do we have so many variations on the identity of these women? That is a fairly simple question. The discrepancy arose because there was no strong, single tradition about who these women were. With no actual evidence, we get speculation, just as we get speculation on the names of the “Twelve Apostles”. No one actually knew their names. Indeed, no one actually knew if there were women watching. So the tradition got creative. And then it got splintered. The simplest solution to the disagreement is that each evangelist stood at the end of a separate tradition. This sort of thing gets biblical scholars all excited, because it allows them to say that the later evangelists had independent information, giving them real historical credibility. They can–and do–say this, but it doesn’t mean they are correct.

The more difficult question is this: Why, if both Matthew and Luke read Mark, why the different names and/or identities for the Marys? Does this not, indeed, point to the likelihood of independent traditions? Doesn’t this put a rather large hole in the idea of direct affiliation? Not necessarily. One fairly simple solution is that the different Marys were interchanged as sort of a shout-out to members of the community to which each evangelist lived. We saw this with Mark naming Simon of Cyrene as the father of Rufus and Alexander. We don’t have to take this at face value; later tradition said that Jesus was related to Joseph of Arimathea. The thing is, the later evangelists were aware of Mark, but they obviously did not follow him on every detail. Had they done so, we’d have had three versions of Mark and nothing else. That is not what we have; from the differences we can safely–I believe–infer that they did not intend simply to follow Mark. I would argue that, in particular Matthew and John, intended to supersede Mark. (Luke, I think, is sui generis for several reasons, but more on that when we get to him.)

While I was aware that there have been all sorts of gyrations to synchronize the identities of the various women named Mary, but I had not been aware of what is called the “Three Marys” conundrum. This theory suggests (“argue” is too strong a word; there is no evidence that can be used to construct an actual argument) that Magdalene, the wife of Clopas, and the sister of Lazarus are all the same person. I won’t go into this; it’s all pure speculation. I had entertained the idea that the sons of Zebedee were actually Jesus’ half-brothers, so that the James always hanging around with Jesus, Peter, and John would have none other than James the Just, the brother of the Lord. However, in different accounts we have Magdalene in the same place at the same time as the mother of the sons of Zebedee (see above) and with Mary, wife of Clopas (Luke), so neither of these ideas really hold water.

This is where the whole outlook of biblical scholarship causes problems. Again, the unchallenged assumption is that the evangelists were all concerned to tell the same story that was ultimately based on a single set of factually accurate data. This is why they twist themselves into pretzels to reconcile “facts” that are not facts at all, but pieces of the legend. As such, they are very plastic. We see this process continuing on into the non-canonical works like Gospel of Peter, which has the trial take place before Herod Antipas, and not Pilate, and has the whole body of Jewish elders, and Pilate, at the tomb to witness the Resurrection. The evangelists were not concerned with who the women at the cross were; although I would suggest that the Magdalene has a fair claim to historical authenticity, at least as a person, if not someone at the foot of the cross. 

55 Erant autem ibi mulieres multae a longe aspicientes, quae secutae erant Iesum a Galilaea ministrantes ei;

56 inter quas erat Maria Magdalene et Maria Iacobi et Ioseph mater et mater filiorum Zebedaei.

57 Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης ἦλθεν ἄνθρωπος πλούσιος ἀπὸ Ἁριμαθαίας, το ὔνομα Ἰωσήφ, ὃς καὶ αὐτὸς ἐμαθητεύθη τῷ Ἰησοῦ:

58 οὗτος προσελθὼν τῷ Πιλάτῳ ᾐτήσατο τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ. τότε ὁ Πιλᾶτος ἐκέλευσεν ἀποδοθῆναι.

59 καὶ λαβὼν τὸ σῶμα ὁἸωσὴφ ἐνετύλιξεν αὐτὸ [ἐν] σινδόνι καθαρᾷ,

60 καὶ ἔθηκεν αὐτὸ ἐν τῷ καινῷ αὐτοῦ μνημείῳ ὃ ἐλατόμησεν ἐν τῇ πέτρᾳ, καὶ προσκυλίσας λίθον μέγαν τῇ θύρᾳ τοῦ μνημείου ἀπῆλθεν.

61 ἦν δὲ ἐκεῖ Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία καθήμεναι ἀπέναντι τοῦ τάφου.

It having become evening, a wealthy man from Arimathea, his name Joseph, who himself had learned from Jesus, (58) he approaching Pilate asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered that it be given (to him). (59) And taking the body Joseph wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, (60) and placed it in a new tomb of his which was cut into the rock, and rolled a great rock in the door of the tomb he went away. (61) There was Miriam the Magdalene and the other Mary sitting, they went away from the tomb.

Not a whole lot of startling revelations there. The most salient point is that Magdalene is considered to be the prime mover in the action of observing Jesus’ tomb. This would be consistent with her role as a prominent financial backer of the movement. Then, as now, money talked, and it the person paying the piper got to call the tune. And notice how she’s relegated her companion to the role of “the other Mary”, no longer important enough to be named.

Despite my often harsh criticism, there are points where I strongly agree with JD Crossan. He does have a better historical sense than many biblical scholars, which isn’t necessarily saying much. His point is that, as a common criminal, the body of Jesus would very likely have been tossed into a common grave pit with a hundred other victims of crucifixion. The result would have been that there simply was no tomb that could then have been found empty. This seems very likely; however, it does not address–at least effectively, IMO–where the whole story of a resurrection came from if there were no empty tomb. The undeniable fact is that the story did start somewhere. So what to make of this?

One very large hint can be derived from the first witness we have to testify to the Resurrection. No, not Mark; the first witness is Paul. He’s the one who told the story of the Resurrected Jesus a full generation before Mark. And there are a couple of things to remember about Paul’s story. Perhaps the most significant is that he says that Jesus appeared to him, just as he had appeared to the Twelve, and to James, and all the rest. This is a huge deal, because Paul didn’t come along until a decade after Jesus had been executed. This is much too late for him to have been with Peter and the rest. So the implication is that Jesus’ may not have risen in the way that we tend to picture it. Bodily? Yes; Paul was a Pharisee and Josephus tells us they believed in the resurrection of the body. But Paul also describes a resurrection body that is not at all the same as a physical body, which implies that our conception, and that of the evangelists, of the rising may not be quite accurate. We may be looking at this a bit too literally. Now, much as I’d love to, this is not the time for a real consideration of this topic. For the moment, suffice it to say that, for Paul, the empty tomb was simply not necessary.

Which brings us to the real point. Since Paul was not concerned with the physical events of the crucifixion, and was not concerned that the earthly body actually came from a tomb where he had been laid after his physical death, the implication is that the story we have of the Passion and Resurrection may very well have been invented some time after Paul. That’s not a slam-dunk certainty, but I believe it’s the best fit for the facts. To make that determination, we have to ask if the idea of the resurrection pre-dated Paul. That, of course, seems an outrageous suggestion, since the foundation-stone of Christianity is the Resurrection. Without that, Jesus is just another wise man. But remember, Mark originally had no true resurrection story; the oldest mss end with the empty tomb, and a man dressed in white telling the Magdalene and the other women that Jesus has been raised and gone ahead of them to Galilee. I think this, together with Paul, is a good indication that there was no Resurrection story until…perhaps until Matthew wrote the one we will read.

57 Cum sero autem factum esset, venit homo dives ab Arimathaea nomine Ioseph, qui et ipse discipulus erat Iesu.

58 Hic accessit ad Pilatum et petiit corpus Iesu. Tunc Pilatus iussit reddi.

59 Et accepto corpore, Ioseph involvit illud in sindone munda

60 et posuit illud in monumento suo novo, quod exciderat in petra, et advolvit saxum magnum ad ostium monumenti et abiit.

61 Erat autem ibi Maria Magdalene et altera Maria sedentes contra sepulcrum.

62 Τῇ δὲ ἐπαύριον, ἥτις ἐστὶν μετὰ τὴν παρασκευήν, συνήχθησαν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι πρὸς Πιλᾶτον

63 λέγοντες, Κύριε, ἐμνήσθημεν ὅτι ἐκεῖνος ὁ πλάνος εἶπεν ἔτι ζῶν, Μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἐγείρομαι.

64 κέλευσον οὖν ἀσφαλισθῆναι τὸν τάφον ἕως τῆς τρίτης ἡμέρας, μήποτε ἐλθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ κλέψωσιν αὐτὸν καὶ εἴπωσιν τῷ λαῷ, Ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ἔσται ἡ ἐσχάτη πλάνη χείρων τῆς πρώτης.

65 ἔφη αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Ἔχετε κουστωδίαν: ὑπάγετε ἀσφαλίσασθε ὡς οἴδατε.

66 οἱ δὲ πορευθέντες ἠσφαλίσαντο τὸν τάφον σφραγίσαντες τὸν λίθον μετὰ τῆς κουστωδίας.

On the morrow, after the preparation,  the high priests and the Pharisees convened before Pilate (63) saying, “Lord, remember that this impostor said yet living, ‘after three days I am being raised’. Order therefore to be secured the tomb until the third day, lest coming his disciples steal him and say to the people, ‘He was raised from the dead, and will be the last deceit worse than the first”.  (65) Said to them Pilate, “You may have a custodian. Go out you secure as you see (i.e., see fit). (66) They going out secured the tomb, sealing the stone with the custodian.

First of all, this is the only recorded usage of “custodian” in all of Greek literature. However, it is very common in Latin, from which language it was transliterated into Greek, as Caesar became “Kaisar”. In effect, we are dealing with a something like a technical term that Matthew swallowed whole.  The implication is that Matthew managed to be aware of a Latin term. This isn’t like “kaisar”, which was moved wholesale into Greek; this is an absolute one-off. No doubt he got it orally, he heard the word spoken, then transliterated it by sound. But where was he that he was in a position to hear the word? Tradition places Matthew in Antioch, and this city would have been the permanent residence of the Roman legion stationed in the region. So that does work.

Then there is the issue with the ‘three days’. Strictly speaking, Jesus was in the tomb for way less than 48 hours (3:00 pm Friday to early Sunday morning), so Jesus was not raised “after three days”. He was raised on the third day. This is a very technical thing, but I think it demonstrates what happens when one tries to line up an ex-post-facto story with a prophecy: there is a certain amount of slippage. Perhaps I’m picking nits here, but this has always bothered me more than no doubt it should.  And too, the reaction of the high priests is that they expect the event to come on the third day, since they ask for the custodian, not when Jesus was buried, but the next day, almost as if they knew (wink-wink) that the raising would take place the following day.

This is potentially interesting. The “preparation” was for the Sabbath; that means that the high priests came to Pilate on the Sabbath. My understanding of First Century Judaism is pretty limited, but my understanding is that Jews in general, and priests in particular, were not supposed to bestir themselves on the Sabbath. That was why they had to prepare: they had to pre-do everything that they would need on the Sabbath. And it is also my understanding that they would have been especially reluctant to go visit a Gentile and risk ritual impurity. But, I could be wrong about that.

That’s really about it. There are some threads to be collected in the summary.

62 Altera autem die, quae est post Parascevem, convenerunt principes sacerdotum et pharisaei ad Pilatum

63 dicentes: “ Domine, recordati sumus quia seductor ille dixit adhuc vivens: “Post tres dies resurgam”.

64 Iube ergo custodiri sepulcrum usque in diem tertium, ne forte veniant discipuli eius et furentur eum et dicant plebi: “Surrexit a mortuis”, et erit novissimus error peior priore ”.

65 Ait illis Pilatus: “ Habetis custodiam; ite, custodite, sicut scitis ”.

66 Illi autem abeuntes munierunt sepulcrum, signantes lapidem, cum custodia.

Matthew Chapter 27:39-54

Jesus has been crucified and is now on the cross. This first section can be called the Mocking of Jesus.

39 Οἱ δὲ παραπορευόμενοι ἐβλασφήμουν αὐτὸν κινοῦντες τὰς κεφαλὰς αὐτῶν

40 καὶ λέγοντες, Ὁ καταλύων τὸν ναὸν καὶ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις οἰκοδομῶν, σῶσον σεαυτόν, εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, [καὶ] κατάβηθι ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ.

41 ὁμοίως καὶ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς ἐμπαίζοντες μετὰ τῶν γραμματέων καὶ πρεσβυτέρων ἔλεγον,

42 Ἄλλους ἔσωσεν, ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται σῶσαι: βασιλεὺς Ἰσραήλ ἐστιν, καταβάτω νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ καὶ πιστεύσομεν ἐπ’ αὐτόν.

43 πέποιθεν ἐπὶ τὸν θεόν, ῥυσάσθω νῦν εἰ θέλει αὐτόν: εἶπεν γὰρ ὅτι Θεοῦ εἰμι υἱός.

44 τὸ δ’ αὐτὸ καὶ οἱ λῃσταὶ οἱ συσταυρωθέντες σὺν αὐτῷ ὠνείδιζον αὐτόν.

Those passing-by blasphemed him, shaking their heads (40) and saying, “The one destroying the Temple and in three days building it up, save yourself, if the son of God [and] come down from the cross”. 

quick note: the Greek word that gets transliterated as ‘blaspheme’ mostly has the connotations it does in Greek, but it can mean ‘slander’ or ‘speak ill of another’ The point is that the passers-by would not have thought themselves blaspheming, because they did not consider Jesus to be divine. The evangelist uses the word because he did believe this about Jesus. It’s a matter of perspective.

(41) In the same way the high priests with the scribes and elders mocking him said, (42) “He saved others, himself he is not able to save. The king of Israel he is, let him come down now from the cross and we will believe in him. (43) Persuade upon God, let him (G0d) deliver him (Jesus) if he wishes. For he said that ‘I am the son of God’.” (44) In the same way the thieves, they having been crucified with him threw shade at him.

This is pure drama. Ha-ha, all those people mocking Jesus, but we get the last laugh! And it’s an all-star cast: the ordinary Jews passing by and shaking their heads, the high priests, the scribes, AND the Elders! And note that both thieves mock him, too. It’s not until Luke that one of the brigands repents, and that is worth noting. It is another great example of how a story evolves and changes, generally growing in the telling as additional details, and anecdotes, and even entire characters are added. The Repentant Thief is just such a character and anecdote, but Luke is full of them.

Other than that, I’m not sure there’s much to say about this section.

39 Praetereuntes autem blasphemabant eum moventes capita sua

40 et dicentes: “Qui destruis templum et in triduo illud reaedificas, salva temetipsum; si Filius Dei es, descende de cruce!”.

41 Similiter et principes sacerdotum illudentes cum scribis et senioribus dicebant:

42 “Alios salvos fecit, seipsum non potest salvum facere. Rex Israel est; descendat nunc de cruce, et credemus in eum.

43 Confidit in Deo; liberet nunc, si vult eum. Dixit enim: “Dei Filius sum” ”.

44 Idipsum autem et latrones, qui crucifixi erant cum eo, improperabant ei.

45 Ἀπὸ δὲ ἕκτης ὥρας σκότος ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ἕως ὥρας ἐνάτης.

46 περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων, Ηλι ηλι λεμα σαβαχθανι; τοῦτ’ ἔστιν, Θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες;

47 τινὲς δὲ τῶν ἐκεῖ ἑστηκότων ἀκούσαντες ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἠλίαν φωνεῖ οὗτος.

48 καὶ εὐθέως δραμὼν εἷς ἐξ αὐτῶν καὶ λαβὼν σπόγγον πλήσας τε ὄξους καὶ περιθεὶς καλάμῳ ἐπότιζεν αὐτόν.

49 οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ ἔλεγον, Ἄφες ἴδωμεν εἰ ἔρχεται Ἠλίας σώσων αὐτόν.

50 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν κράξας φωνῇ μεγάλῃ ἀφῆκεν τὸ πνεῦμα.

From the sixth hour (noon), darkness became upon the entire until the ninth hour (3 pm). (46) About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabnachthani?” Which is, “God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (47) Some of those there standing, hearing said that he was calling Elias (Elijah). (48) And immediately running one from them and taking a sponge filled with vinegar/cheap/bad wine and placing it on a reed gave him to drink. (49) The others said, :”Go away, let us see if Elijah comes saving him”. (50) And Jesus once again cried out in a loud voice and gave up the spirit.

The part about the darkness will be saved for a bit later. Other than than, most of the details listed here are very similar to what Mark has; Matthew adds almost nothing that is new. He transliterates the Aramaic a bit differently, the result being that it does sound more like the Romanized form of Elias. We discussed this in relation to Mark; it has to be Hebrew, since the members of the crowd would presumably have understood Aramaic, since that was the common, spoken language. This is a quote from a Psalm. The bit about the wine has always perplexed me; again, was it meant as an anesthetic? And at the end, Jesus gives up the spirit; that is, he exhaled his last breath, so the breath was gone. “Giving up the ghost”catches the idea.

Given the similarity to Mark, I suppose the question is why? Why did Matthew pretty much copy and paste Mark so faithfully? It occurs to me to suggest that the weight of tradition had already come down so hard with Mark’s version of the Passion Story that Matthew felt unable to change it. That is certainly possible, but Luke was under no such constraint. Generally, when one author follows another so closely, it’s because the second one doesn’t have anything new or different to add. Why he didn’t have anything to add is entirely a different question, and one that’s much harder to answer. 

51 Καὶ ἰδοὺ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ ἐσχίσθη ἀπ’ ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω εἰς δύο, καὶ ἡ γῆ ἐσείσθη, καὶ αἱ πέτραι ἐσχίσθησαν, 52 καὶ τὰ μνημεῖα ἀνεῴχθησαν καὶ πολλὰ σώματα τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἁγίων ἠγέρθησαν, 53 καὶ ἐξελθόντες ἐκ τῶν μνημείων μετὰ τὴν ἔγερσιν αὐτοῦ εἰσῆλθον εἰς τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν καὶ ἐνεφανίσθησαν πολλοῖς. 54 Ὁ δὲ ἑκατόνταρχος καὶ οἱ μετ’ αὐτοῦ τηροῦντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἰδόντες τὸν σεισμὸν καὶ τὰ γενόμενα ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα, λέγοντες, Ἀληθῶς θεοῦ υἱὸς ἦν οὗτος.

 And behold, the curtain of the Temple was torn from top to bottom in two (pieces), and the earth was shaken, and the stones were split. (52) And the tombs were opened and many bodies of the holy ones having fallen asleep were raised, (53) and coming out from the tombs after the awaking of him, they can again to the holy place and appeared to many. (54) The leader of a hundred (= centurion) and those with him keeping watch on Jesus seeing the earthquake and the occurrences were greatly frightened, saying, “Truly, the son of God was this man”. 

Above, when we encountered the Praetorium, we found the word transliterated into Greek due to a lack of a corresponding word. Here, the Latin “centurion”, who was a leader of a hundred soldiers, becomes in Greek “a hundred leader”. The term is translated very literally, but it’s not just transliterated as “kenturion”, which was a possible solution.

Now for the important stuff. Let’s start by going back to the darkness from noon till 3:00 pm. That set the stage for the events described here. We have to remember that all of this is happening in darkness. Now, it could be the darkness of a very cloudy day, but that’s not how we would normally take this. There is more ominous sense to the description, more atmospheric, something portentous. And now we get to the payoff: as Jesus dies, the curtain is torn in two, the earth shakes, and stones split. Even more astonishing is that the dead saints come forth, and are seen by many. In sense, the darkness is the opposite pole of the star that appeared at his birth; that was shining and bright; this is gloomy and foreboding, and yet still managing to be life-giving. Of all the events described, the holy ones coming forth from their tombs is unique to Matthew, and it is of a piece with his description of Jesus as a cosmic event. The stars proclaimed him, the sending forth of his spirit (pneuma, not psyche) literally breathes life into the dead. That’s pretty darn cosmic.

In a way, it’s kind of surprising that this detail, the dead walking, does not get more emphasis than it does. It’s rarely discussed; in fact, I was a bit surprised to come across it when I actually read Matthew for the first time in toto. Biblical scholars blather on about how embarrassed the follows of Jesus were by the connexion to John–which is utter nonsense; they were proud of it and played it up–but the real embarrassment seems to reside in this event. And it’s not difficult to see why this is. Paul talked about Jesus as the “first fruits”, the first to conquer death. But not exactly. Yes, there were those who were brought back by Elijah and Jesus, but that was something different. This is the cosmos acting, not God through a human agent who is performing a miracle. These holy ones were, really, the first fruits. The difference between these holy ones and, say, the little girl, or Lazarus, or the widow’s son raised by Elijah (and another by Jesus). The difference is perhaps subtle, but it’s real and it’s significant. Just ponder the situations for a moment if you don’t agree with me. And if you don’t agree after that period to ruminate, that’s fine, too. But then explain why the miracle of Lazarus is so famous, and this one sort of gets swept under the rug. How many famous artists have depicted this scene? A cursory Google search turns up dozens of paintings of Lazarus. Has anyone depicted this scene? I tried to Google it, but without results. Part of the problem is how to enter it into Google. The scene really doesn’t have a name. Anything with “resurrection” in it comes up with Jesus, or the resurrection of the dead on Judgement Day. Hmmm. Judgement Day. There’s an interesting connexion, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of it at the moment.

45 A sexta autem hora tenebrae factae sunt super universam terram usque ad horam nonam.

46 Et circa horam nonam clamavit Iesus voce magna dicens: “Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani?”, hoc est: “ Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me? ”.

47 Quidam autem ex illic stantibus audientes dicebant: “Eliam vocat iste”.

48 Et continuo currens unus ex eis acceptam spongiam implevit aceto et imposuit arundini et dabat ei bibere.

49 Ceteri vero dicebant: “Sine, videamus an veniat Elias liberans eum”.

50 Iesus autem iterum clamans voce magna emisit spiritum.

51 Et ecce velum templi scissum est a summo usque deorsum in duas partes, et terra mota est, et petrae scissae sunt;

52 et monumenta aperta sunt, et multa corpora sanctorum, qui dormierant, surrexerunt

53 et exeuntes de monumentis post resurrectionem eius venerunt in sanctam civitatem et apparuerunt multis.

54 Centurio autem et, qui cum eo erant custodientes Iesum, viso terrae motu et his, quae fiebant, timuerunt valde dicentes: “Vere Dei Filius erat iste!”.


Matthew Chapter 27:27-38

This is the story of the actual crucifixion. Crossan makes the point that this particular method of execution required a certain level of knowledge and technical expertise, which pretty much guarantees that the Romans performed it. Jews executed by stoning, or throwing people off a cliff. Josephus (supposedly, at least) gives this as a the method of execution of James, brother of Jesus. In either case, you can see that these methods of death more closely resemble mob action than they do juridical execution carried out by the official apparatus of the state. As such, the idea that Pilate handed Jesus over to anyone else as Matthew (perhaps) tried to imply is pretty much preposterous.

There is no really clean break point until the burial, but that is most of the rest of the chapter. My apologies if the one I’ve chosen is a tad awkward.

27 Τότε οἱ στρατιῶται τοῦ ἡγεμόνος παραλαβόντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν εἰς τὸ πραιτώριον συνήγαγον ἐπ’ αὐτὸν ὅλην τὴν σπεῖραν.

Then the soldiers of the governor taking Jesus led him to the praetorium, to the whole cohort.

Two things: perhaps I oversold the meaning “handed over”. It can have the sense of “remanded into custody”, so maybe Matthew wasn’t trying to fob this off onto the Jews. Second, the “praetorium” is a Latin word for the tent of the praetor, who was an official who acted as a military leader. The word has a military connotation: Lewis and Short (the other L&S) define it as the general’s tent, or the official residence of the governor. This is the obvious meaning here. The word is simply transliterated into Greek, since there was no corresponding word in Greek because there was no corresponding concept in Greek military thinking.

The other second thing is the cohort. This is a technical military term for a division of a legion. It refers to a tenth of a legion, or six centuries of a hundred men each, so it would be 600 men at its theoretical full strength. Six hundred Roman soldiers in a civilian town was a lot of firepower, especially given the variety of tactical measures in which they were trained. The Greek word here is a “band”, as in a group. Here again there was no corresponding word in Greek because they used the phalanx, which was as big as the number of soldiers at any given time. This was a weapon formidable enough to conquer the eastern world, but it lacked the tactical flexibility of a Roman legion, in no small part because the legions had these subdivisions which allowed some pretty sophisticated manoeuvres in the course of a battle. The Vulgate uses “cohort”, the proper Latin term.

27 Tunc milites praesidis suscipientes Iesum in praetorio congregaverunt ad eum universam cohortem.

28 καὶ ἐκδύσαντες αὐτὸν χλαμύδα κοκκίνην περιέθηκαν αὐτῷ,

29 καὶ πλέξαντες στέφανον ἐξ ἀκανθῶν ἐπέθηκαν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ καὶ κάλαμον ἐν τῇ δεξιᾷ αὐτοῦ, καὶ γονυπετήσαντες ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ ἐνέπαιξαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες, Χαῖρε, βασιλεῦτῶν Ἰουδαίων,

30 καὶ ἐμπτύσαντες εἰς αὐτὸν ἔλαβον τὸν κάλαμον καὶ ἔτυπτον εἰς τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ.

31 καὶ ὅτε ἐνέπαιξαν αὐτῷ, ἐξέδυσαν αὐτὸν τὴν χλαμύδα καὶ ἐνέδυσαν αὐτὸν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀπήγαγον αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ σταυρῶσαι.

And dressing him in a scarlet cloak they surrounded him, (29) and weaving a crown from thorns they placed it on his head and (put) a reed in his right (hand), and genuflecting towards him they mocked him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews”. (30) And spitting upon him they took the reed and struck him on the head. (31) And then they mocked him, removing the cloak and dressing him in his own garment, and they led him out to be crucified.

Crossan makes a big deal about whether it was the Romans or the Jews who abused Jesus in this way. He examines this carefully to see what the text can tell us about the attitude towards the Romans and/or Jews, and then attempts to use this as the basis for dating the various works, especially the Gospel of Peter. Here, it is clearly the Romans acting the part of the bad guys. Historically this is far and away the most likely occurrence; the Romans were not known for their forbearance to subject peoples, and since they have him in custody, it follows that they would be doing the abusing. Crossan is convinced that the exculpation of the Romans in the Gospel of Peter demonstrates pretty convincingly that it was written in the early 40s, in a period when the Romans were perceived as benevolent and the Jewish authorities were seen as persecutors. The argument is, shall we say, less than convincing. It is completely historically implausible; anyone at the time would have laughed at the way GPeter has the Jews and Herod running the crucifixion. Yes, there were theological reasons for this, but the level of historical implausibility would have gotten this laughed at. Even if it had been written in the 40s, the historical distortions are so enormous that trying to find anything of historical value in the narrative is a fool’s errand. Reading this sort of thing is why I despair of finding good historical analysis among biblical scholarship.

28 Et exuentes eum, clamydem coccineam circumdederunt ei

29 et plectentes coronam de spinis posuerunt super caput eius et arundinem in dextera eius et, genu flexo ante eum, illudebant ei dicentes: “ Ave, rex Iudaeorum! ”.

30 Et exspuentes in eum acceperunt arundinem et percutiebant caput eius.

31 Et postquam illuserunt ei, exuerunt eum clamyde et induerunt eum vestimentis eius et duxerunt eum, ut crucifigerent.

32 Ἐξερχόμενοι δὲ εὗρον ἄνθρωπον Κυρηναῖον ὀνόματι Σίμωνα: τοῦτον ἠγγάρευσαν ἵνα ἄρῃ τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ.

33 Καὶ ἐλθόντες εἰς τόπον λεγόμενον Γολγοθᾶ, ὅ ἐστιν Κρανίου Τόπος λεγόμενος,

34 ἔδωκαν αὐτῷ πιεῖν οἶνον μετὰ χολῆς μεμιγμένον: καὶ γευσάμενος οὐκ ἠθέλησεν πιεῖν.

Going out(side) they found a Cyrenean man named Simon. They forced (him) so that he would carry the cross of him (Jesus). (33) And going to the place called Golgotha, which is saying the Place of the Cranium, (34) they gave to him to drink wine mixed with gall. And tasting it he did not wish to drink.  

I wasn’t planning to stop until the end, but want to comment on a couple of things. First, the episode with Simon of Cyrene is a bit odd. He appears here and then is never heard of again. Why is it necessary for him to carry the cross? Of course, “everyone knows” it’s because Jesus was beaten so badly that he could barely stand, but this is one of those unchallenged assumptions that are just sitting there. In the end, there’s no matter; there is no impact to the overall story, but it’s just odd. Is it odd enough to be factual? Why would you make this up? If it is to convey the sorry state of Jesus, why not go into that a bit more. Yes, Pilate scourged him, but did that render him so physically weak that he needed help with the cross?

Briefly, the Greek is “topos kraniou”, from which “cranium” should be recognizable. The Latin is Calvary, which is “bald”. So the idea is pretty clear. The hill looked like a bald pate. Finally, the wine mixed with gall. I have no idea what gall is; it’s supposedly bile, taken from the gall bladder, which is notoriously bitter. It’s used in medicines. I have heard it suggested that it was meant to numb the pain of being crucified. That makes sense. But Jesus refused. Perhaps this is on the order of refusing a blindfold when being led before a firing squad? An act of bravery?


32 Exeuntes autem invenerunt hominem Cyrenaeum nomine Simonem; hunc angariaverunt, ut tolleret crucem eius.

33 Et venerunt in locum, qui dicitur Golgotha, quod est Calvariae locus,

34 et dederunt ei vinum bibere cum felle mixtum; et cum gustasset, noluit bibere.

35 σταυρώσαντες δὲ αὐτὸν διεμερίσαντο τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ βάλλοντες κλῆρον,

36 καὶ καθήμενοι ἐτήρουν αὐτὸν ἐκεῖ.

37 καὶ ἐπέθηκαν ἐπάνω τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ τὴν αἰτίαν αὐτοῦ γεγραμμένην: Οὗτός ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς ὁ βασιλεῦς τῶν Ἰουδαίων.

38 Τότε σταυροῦνται σὺν αὐτῷ δύο λῃσταί, εἷς ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ εἷς ἐξεὐωνύμων.

Crucifying him, they divided his garment by casting lots, (36) and they being seated they observed him there. (37) And they put over his head the reason of him being written. “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews”. (38) Then they crucified with him two brigands, one on the right, and one on the left. 

We are used to seeing the INRI inscription. In Latin, Jesus of Nazareth king of the Jews is: (I)esus (N)azoreum (R)ex (I)udaorum. But note that the toponymic, “of Nazareth” is not included here. I think you can pick out the Latin translation below. “Here is Jesus & c”. Again, this whole king of the Jews thing is peculiar. It really only appears in connexion with the Passion story. Yes, Matthew has it connected to his birth story, with the magoi looking for the king of the Jews, but, aside from that and a few allusions to David, this is not a big part of who Jesus is supposed to be. Why is that? That is a question worth investigating. It’s another piece of historical analysis that needs, well, historical analysis.

BTW: the fact that the wording of the inscription varies between gospels doesn’t exactly help the case for biblical inerrancy. 

I have to say a word about the brigands with whom he was crucified. You all may remember that Reza Aslan argued that Jesus was a Zealot; hence the title of the book. A big part of that argument rested on the “fact” that crucifixion was reserved solely for rebels, and that the word used to describe the thieves (as they are usually called) here, in fact, means ‘rebel’. This is complete nonsense. As a Classicist, I was flabbergasted to read these things in a book intended for polite company. I had never, ever heard that about crucifixion, and neither the Greek nor the Latin word means ‘rebel’. Liddell & Scott and Lewis & Short provide instances of usage for the words being defined, and neither of these works suggests the word being defined means anything like ‘rebel’. Aslan’s contention was that a robber holed up in a cave–like the robber band in The Golden Ass–were actually revolutionaries. My apologies, but sometimes a robber is just a robber. That seems to be the case here. Aslan really, really reached with his hypothesis, which would have come and gone with barely a ripple if Christian media hadn’t taken to attacking him based on the idea that a Muslim simply cannot write a book about Jesus. Now, because of the notoriety, that idea has become lodged in the popular consciousness. I’ve come across it on various websites, or in Facebook groups. ‘Tis a pity.

35 Postquam autem crucifixerunt eum, diviserunt vestimenta eius sortem mittentes

36 et sedentes servabant eum ibi.

37 Et imposuerunt super caput eius causam ipsius scriptam: “Hic est Iesus Rex Iudaeorum”.

38 Tunc crucifiguntur cum eo duo latrones: unus a dextris, et unus a sinistris.

Matthew Chapter 27:11-26

Here we begin the trial before Pilate. Having provided my thoughts on the book in a separate entry, I won’t go over it again. At this point, suffice it to say that it was not terribly useful, and will play a decidedly minor role in the commentary on this section. Alas, I’d hoped for more.

11 Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἐστάθη ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ ἡγεμόνος: καὶ ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτὸν ὁ ἡγεμὼν λέγων, Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἔφη, Σὺ λέγεις.

Jesus was stood before the leader. And the governor asked him, saying, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And Jesus replied, “You say (so)”.

Does the appearance of this question seem abrupt to anyone? I realize that the Messiah was associated in Jewish tradition with the kingship; but did Pilate realize this? A certain discontinuity does exist here, and this (like most things) has implications. When being tried before the chief priests, Jesus “confessed” that he was the Messiah. This word would have been meaningless to the Romans; or the implications of the word, at least, since being the ‘anointed’ is pretty vague. So, are we to assume that the chief priests told Pilate that Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews? We kind of have to assume that; there really is no other way for Pilate to get that information.

I need to pause here to emphasize just how strongly a man like Pilate despised subject peoples. This was during the reign of Tiberius, who was next in succession after Augustus, who established the imperial form of government, At this point, government was still largely in the hands of the old families who could trace prominent ancestors back for centuries. Tiberius was of the gens Claudius, and had produced its first consul in 495 BCE, just over a dozen years after the republic was founded. The Romans had become masters of the world only relatively recently; to their minds, their traditions and their heritage and their virtues were unmatched in the world. The mos maiorum, the ways of the ancestors were superior to any and all. Pilate, although belonging to the Equites, the level below the consular and senatorial families, would have shared this cultural arrogance. To Pilate, a subject people like the Jews–or anyone else, Greeks excepted–were fully beneath notice. A provincial like Jesus would have been a figure of contempt; the idea that Pilate would have understood anything about Judaism is just not credible. We are talking about levels of cultural chauvinism that are difficult to imagine in today’s world, and the First Century would have been the height of Roman arrogance. The Empire was still relatively new, the absorption of different peoples still rudimentary. And the Romans came to their chauvinism as the victors of many people over many centuries It was truly bred in the bone.

So the point is, if anything like this had occurred, it would have been necessary for the chief priests to feed it to Pilate. And that makes sense, within the confines of the story. It is consistent with the idea that the chief priests were trying to sell Pilate on the idea that Jesus was a political danger. Did anything like this occur? Probably not. I really and truly doubt that Jesus was important enough to warrant a personal trial in front of Pilate. This is especially true given there is no support in any source to indicate that there were troubles surrounding Jesus. Josephus talks about John, and the headache he was for Herod Antipas, and Josephus talks about unrest in Galilee and Judea, and Josephus (supposedly) talks about Jesus. But he never mentions Jesus in connexion with either of the other two topics. Why not? The simplest answer, of course, is that Jesus was not particularly involved in any sort of general agitation, nor was his connexion to John all that strong.

Given this, can we finally put aside the idea that the early Christians were embarrassed by Jesus’ ties to John. They weren’t. They played up the connexion, John’s role expanding as time went on. Yes, the evangelist John eliminates the actual baptism, but he more than compensates by adding a second interaction between Jesus and John. True embarrassment would have resulted in the complete elimination of the Baptist by Matthew and/or Luke, and certainly by the time John wrote.

But the point connected to this verse is that it’s most likely unhistorical. Which means that pretty much everything that follows is unhistorical.

11 Iesus autem stetit ante praesidem; et interrogavit eum praeses dicens: “ Tu es Rex Iudaeorum? ”. Dixit autem Iesus: “Tu dicis”.

12 καὶ ἐν τῷ κατηγορεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀρχιερέων καὶ πρεσβυτέρων οὐδὲν ἀπεκρίνατο.

And in the to accuse him by the high priests and elders he did not rebut anything.

Didn’t want to pause here, but a couple of notes on the grammar. “The to accuse” is a verb in Greek, an infinitive. This use of an infinitive in the place of what would be a gerund, or even a noun (the accusing; the accusation) in English is fairly common in Greek. It just handles the same situation differently. And the “he did not rebut anything”. The verb specifically means to “offer contrary evidence”, but that’s hard to work into a transitive form in English. Here, it’s literally “he did not counter-argue nothing”. That won’t do in English.

12 Et cum accusaretur a principibus sacerdotum et senioribus, nihil respondit.

13 τότε λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Οὐκ ἀκούεις πόσα σου καταμαρτυροῦσιν;

14 καὶ οὐκ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ πρὸς οὐδὲ ἓν ῥῆμα, ὥστε θαυμάζειν τὸν ἡγεμόνα λίαν.

Then Pilate said to him, “Did you not hear how much they have provided witness against you?” (14) And he (Jesus) did not respond to him (Pilate), not one thing spoken. In this way the Leader marveled very much. 

I’m reading another book called The Backgrounds of Early Christianity (note the plural). In it, the author says that “hegemon”, here translated as “leader” was the proper Greek translation of the Latin equivalent. That makes sense, but the author’s background is in Biblical Studies, so I’m not entirely convinced. If I had come across it in Josephus, let’s say, I’d give it more credibility. “NT Greek” is such a closed and self-inferential subset of Greek studies that I don’t find them to have a lot of credibility. It’s too much like a club where the members all agree to do certain things that people outside the club would find bizarre. Sort of like wearing funny hats to go to a lodge meeting.

Probably more important is that Jesus was silent. Why did Jesus not respond? Well, even if he did, we couldn’t depend on its accuracy. Who was there to tell the later followers of Jesus what transpired? Or, more likely, Jesus said nothing to Pilate because he never appeared before Pilate.

13 Tunc dicit illi Pilatus: “ Non audis quanta adversum te dicant testimonia?”.

14 Et non respondit ei ad ullum verbum, ita ut miraretur praeses vehementer.

15 Κατὰ δὲ ἑορτὴν εἰώθει ὁ ἡγεμὼν ἀπολύειν ἕνα τῷ ὄχλῳ δέσμιον ὃν ἤθελον.

(15) And upon the feast the governor used to release one of the prisoners to the crowd, which they wanted.

Let’s stop right here. Absolutely the only place this custom is attested is right here in the gospels. There is absolutely no evidence for it anywhere else, in any source, whether Latin, Greek, or Aramaic. Nowhere. Nothing. Never. Given this absolute lack of corroborating evidence, it’s safe to say we should be highly skeptical about its authenticity. Make that extremely skeptical. And notice that the Greek says the governor was accustomed, was wont to do this. This means it happened more than once; it was not a one-off sort of thing. This means that there is more likelihood that it would have been mentioned by someone, somewhere, at some time. Since, despite the fact that there were multiple iterations of this practice, we still don’t have any evidence for it, we can, I believe, safely assume that this whole episode is made up from whole cloth.

And that, in turn, has additional ramifications. We have a fictitious custom tacked on to what is probably a fictitious trial. That so much of this is made up should make one consider that the cause of the trial, the reason for Jesus’ execution may not withstand historical scrutiny. I’ve now read at least two books by Crossan in which he avers that the cleansing of the Temple was the reason behind Jesus’ arrest based on charges trumped-up by the Jewish authorities because they feared that Jesus was offering an alternative to Temple ritual. Perhaps he was. But so were the Essenes. And we honestly don’t know exactly what Jesus’ teachings really were. I believe that the Sermon on the Mount was not among them. The point is that the fictions pile upon fictions, creating quite the house of cards that topples with even the slightest historical scrutiny.

15 Per diem autem sollemnem consueverat praeses dimittere turbae unum vinctum, quem voluissent.

16 εἶχον δὲ τότε δέσμιον ἐπίσημον λεγόμενον [Ἰησοῦν] Βαραββᾶν.

17 συνηγμένων οὖν αὐτῶν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Τίνα θέλετε ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν, [Ἰησοῦν τὸν] Βαραββᾶν ἢ Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν;

18 ᾔδει γὰρ ὅτι διὰ φθόνον παρέδωκαν αὐτόν.

They had imprisoned then someone notable called [Jesus] Barabbas. (17)  Thus those of his having gathered, Pilate asked to them, “Whom do you wish I release to you, [Jesus the ] Barabbas, or Jesus called the Christ?” (18) For he knew that through jealousy they had handed him over. 

Assuming, with justice, that the story and character of Barabbas is fictional, we must then ask why it was created? It would seem to be obvious that the point is to compare and contrast the two men, which comparison is even more pointed since the other’s name was also Jesus–although that is more likely a later insertion, based on the textual evidence. A later copyist sought to heighten the drama and the distinction between the two by giving them the same name. We’ll get to the contrast a bit more in the next few verses.

Rather, let’s deal with the last sentence: the high priests handed Jesus over from jealousy. Or was it malice? Either way, this is an echo from Mark, so it goes to the foundation of the story. So let’s think about this. The word, << phthonos >>, is used by both Mark and Matthew. While at root the word means “malice”, in Greek tragedy, it is the << φθόνος >> of the gods, the jealousy of preserving their prerogatives,  that causes them to send retribution upon a mortal for overstepping his place; however, the word is mostly used for “normal” jealousy or envy as well. It is what we feel for another’s riches, or another’s success when we’re not exactly happy for them. I think a legitimate question to ask is whether Mark understood the literary implications of the word. How widely were the concepts of Greek tragedy disseminated throughout the culture? By using the word, did the evangelist–or the creator of the Passion Narrative, or the scribe who translated Mark into Greek–wish, consciously or not, to evoke the idea of tragedy? It needs to be said that Jesus does not fit the mold of the tragic hero: he is not blind to his tragic flaw, he does not overstep his human role and attempt to usurp the role of the gods.

Or does he? Boy howdy, here’s a thesis for some enterprising and aspiring Ph.D. scholar: The Passion Story as Greek tragedy. 

OK, coming back to earth, let’s be a bit more circumspect about this. Otherwise, it’s another of those moments when I take a flight of fancy based pretty much on nothing. Here, it’s a single word. That would be a very, very subtle evocation on the part of the author.

So let’s reel this in a bit and ask what the author meant by the word. It seems pretty obvious that, on a very human level, this cuts to the root of the high priests’ attitude towards Jesus: they felt he was horning in on their territory, and they didn’t like it. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of jealousy: losing what you have to someone else. As such, it goes along with the theme of the story. But there are two things to consider. First, how in the world would Pilate know this? Did his sources on the street keep him informed? Did Pilate even know who Jesus was? The short answer to that is, it’s doubtful. According to the narrative, Jesus has been in the city since Sunday; it’s now Friday. Has Jesus raised that much of a ruckus that he’s come to Pilate’s attention? Well, there was the procession into Jerusalem, but a close reading of Mark’s version of that event reveals Jesus coming into town surrounded by a group of followers that seemed to draw scant attention from anyone else. Aware of this low-key description, Matthew expands upon it, having children chanting “Hosanna” in the Temple precinct. But even there, it almost seems like the high priests are taking notice of Jesus for the first time. Then there is the “cleansing” of the Temple. At the very most, it would have been a minor occurrence, perhaps involving a single table, a nuisance rather than a threat. Anything larger would have likely resulted in Jesus’ immediate arrest. And the story, told in both Mark and Matthew, that he returned to the Temple the next day and conversed with Temple priests really undercuts any suggestion that he caused a significant disturbance the day before.

In other words, there’s very little for the high priests to be jealous about. Then, of course, there’s the second problem with the suggestion that Pilate understood the high priests’ motives: this trial probably did not happen. Pilate did not personally try every two-bit criminal who got himself arrested and crucified. Jesus very obviously committed no major crime; even knocking over a money-changer’s table would not cross that bar. Given that, why is Jesus being tried by Pilate? Answer, he’s not. This event did not happen.

16 Habebant autem tunc vinctum insignem, qui dicebatur Barabbas.

17 Congregatis ergo illis dixit Pilatus: “ Quem vultis dimittam vobis: Barabbam an Iesum, qui dicitur Christus? ”.

18 Sciebat enim quod per invidiam tradidissent eum.

19 Καθημένου δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ βήματος ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ λέγουσα, Μηδὲν σοὶ καὶ τῷ δικαίῳ ἐκείνῳ, πολλὰ γὰρ ἔπαθον σήμερον κατ’ ὄναρ δι’ αὐτόν.

20 Οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι ἔπεισαν τοὺς ὄχλους ἵνα αἰτήσωνται τὸν Βαραββᾶν τὸνδὲ Ἰησοῦν ἀπολέσωσιν.

While seated on the judgement seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Do not have anything (to do) with this just man, for many signs I have felt during a dream on his account”. (20) The high priests and the scribes persuaded the crown in order to cause this Jesus Barabbas to be released.

Here, I think, is where we come to the crux (no pun intended) of the matter. First, we have Pilate’s wife dreaming about Jesus, telling Pilate to have nothing to do with this just man. This is an addition to Mark’s story. And it’s addition is, I think, very telling. The Greeks and Romans took dreams very seriously. The Iliad says: << kai gar t’oner ek dios estin >> “For a dream, too, is from Zeus”. There are stories in the HS about dreams: the dream of pharaoh interpreted by Joseph, the dream of Nebuchadnezzar interpreted by Daniel, and I think Saul had a dream, too? But regardless, they dream was much more of a Graeco-Roman thing, much more tightly intertwined with the pagan culture than it was in Jewish culture. The gods visited ordinary people in a way that God did not. For example, medical shrines, like that of Asclepius, sort of the ancient version of Lourdes, drew pilgrims from far away. The healing process was to sleep in the temple compound until the god sent a dream to tell the supplicant of the necessary ritual needed to effect a cure.

The point is, Matthew’s insertion of this story was intended, I believe, to convince a pagan audience. It would have carried more weight with pagans than it would have with Jews. In effect, Matthew is telling his audience that some god was sending verification that Jesus was innocent. Jews could have understood this as well; there’s nothing exclusive about the idea, but it would have had more resonance, IMO, among pagans who were used to this sort of thing.

Then there’s the next verse, in which the crowd is incited to ask for Barabbas. First, why is there a crowd at all? It’s early morning on the first day of Passover. Why are Jews assembled in front of Pilate’s residence? This may be legitimate, but I’ve never heard an explanation for this. It’s especially odd considering that it’s early in the morning. Were they seeking to petition Pilate? To demonstrate to persuade Pilate to take some action or other? This seems like another of those many instances where some detail, or set of circumstances that furthers the action/plot is just asserted and never explained. And these sorts of details are rarely (if ever) questioned by any of the scholars who are supposedly considering the historicity of Jesus and/or the gospels. To his credit, Crossan does address this, at least indirectly. He dismisses the entire episode of Barabbas, which thereby eliminates the crowd shouting “Crucify him!”. The point of this couplet is very simple and very straightforward: the idea is to remove the guilt from Pilate and place it squarely on the Jewish authorities, if not exactly the Jews themselves. That will come shortly.

19 Sedente autem illo pro tribunali, misit ad illum uxor eius dicens: “Nihil tibi et iusto illi. Multa enim passa sum hodie per visum propter eum”.

20 Principes autem sacerdotum et seniores persuaserunt turbis, ut peterent Barabbam, Iesum vero perderent.

21 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἡγεμὼν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τίνα θέλετε ἀπὸ τῶν δύο ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Τὸν Βαραββᾶν.

22 λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Τί οὖν ποιήσω Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν; λέγουσιν πάντες, Σταυρωθήτω.

23 ὁ δὲ ἔφη, Τί γὰρ κακὸν ἐποίησεν; οἱ δὲ περισσῶς ἔκραζον λέγοντες, Σταυρωθήτω.

24 ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ Πιλᾶτος ὅτι οὐδὲν ὠφελεῖ ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον θόρυβος γίνεται, λαβὼν ὕδωρ ἀπενίψατο τὰς χεῖρας ἀπέναντι τοῦ ὄχλου, λέγων, Ἀθῷός εἰμι ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος τούτου: ὑμεῖς ὄψεσθε.

25 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς πᾶς ὁ λαὸς εἶπεν, Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.

26 τότε ἀπέλυσεν αὐτοῖς τὸν Βαραββᾶν, τὸν δὲ Ἰησοῦν φραγελλώσας παρέδωκεν ἵνα σταυρωθῇ.

Answering, the governor said to them, “Whom from the two do you wish I release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” (22) Pilate said to them, “What therefore shall I do to Jesus called the Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!”  (23) And he said, “For what has he done (that is) bad?” They shouted more, saying “Let him be crucified!” (24) Pilate, seeing that he profited nothing, but more tumult became, taking water he washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am guiltless from the blood of him; you observe this for yourselves”. (25) And responded the entire people, “The blood of him upon us and upon the children of us!” (26) Then he released to them Barabbas, in contrast Jesus having been scourged he handed him over that he might be crucified.

Two things, one major, one fairly minor. The fairly minor one first. The last sentence is interesting. “Handed him over that he might be crucified”. First, the idea of “handing him over” is completely disingenuous. Pilate handed Jesus to no one. The Romans performed the crucifixion; it was Pilate’s soldiers who carried out the sentence. Jesus was not ‘handed over’. The word is the same that is used of Judas when Judas “handed Jesus over”. Except there, it is very often translated as “betrayed”. So this is a neat rhetorical trick whereby the author can put Pilate at a remove from responsibility. Of course, Pilate is the one who is responsible. It was his order, carried out by his soldiers.

But that is pretty much inconsequential compared to the line before: his blood on us and our children”. This is possibly the ugliest line in the entire NT. This is the Jews as Christ-killers, his blood on their hands and those of their children. Blood guilt, in perpetuity. To make things more emphatic, to make them worse, he changes what he calls those doing the shouting. Before, the were “the crowd”. Now, suddenly, they are “laos”, which I’ve translated as “people”. In The Persians, Aeschylus uses the word to mean, “all who are called by one name”; as examples, he cites the Lydians and the Phrygians. The term is a bit looser than “ethnos”, which has more of a unitary sense to it, and is probably closer to our sense of “a people” than “laos” is. However, given the use of Aeschylus, this is more than “a bunch of people”, which in English would be more or less synonymous with “crowd”.

The point here is that Matthew has placed collective guilt on Jews and their children. While this formulation is not as explicit as it will be in John, who speaks of “the Jews”, it’s the rhetorical and functional equivalent of that expression. “Laos” doesn’t do it, but adding “our children” certainly does. That converts it at least to the guilt of a religion, but given the interconnexion of religion and nationality with the Jews, this is, in essense, an ethnic guilt, and one that has had a long and ugly history in the Christian community.

There is a wrinkle to this that receives no attention. Since it is simply accepted that Matthew was a Jew, no one discusses this in terms of Matthew’s attitude towards Jews. Simply put, there is no discussion about why Matthew, a Jew, would put such blood-guilt on his own people. For me, there is no conflict in this because I believe Matthew was a pagan rather than a Jew. Do I believe this proves my point? No, it doesn’t prove the point; what it does do, I believe, is show that my point is at least worth serious consideration. This amounts to a very harsh condemnation of Jews everywhere and always. As a Jew, Matthew would most likely have been condemning members of his own family. Could he have turned so thoroughly against his relatives, his friends, his entire upbringing and heritage? Sure. He wouldn’t have been the first to do this, and he certainly hasn’t been the last. Rather, it’s the probability game: wouldn’t it be more likely for such a harsh condemnation to come from an outsider, rather than from a co-religionist? I find this pretty convincing, but only when added to the many other times we’ve had this discussion, such as the idea of the dream of Pilate’s wife. That is two clues within a very short space of text. So I do believe the idea cannot be dismissed out of hand, and that it deserves serious consideration. 

21 Respondens autem praeses ait illis: “Quem vultis vobis de duobus dimittam?”. At illi dixerunt: “ Barabbam!”.

22 Dicit illis Pilatus: “Quid igitur faciam de Iesu, qui dicitur Christus? ”. Dicunt omnes: “ Crucifigatur!”.

23 Ait autem: “Quid enim mali fecit? ”. At illi magis clamabant dicentes: “ Crucifigatur!”.

24 Videns autem Pilatus quia nihil proficeret, sed magis tumultus fieret, accepta aqua, lavit manus coram turba dicens: “Innocens ego sum a sanguine hoc; vos videritis!”.

25 Et respondens universus populus dixit: “Sanguis eius super nos et super filios nostros”.

26 Tunc dimisit illis Barabbam; Iesum autem flagellatum tradidit, ut crucifigeretur.

Matthew Chapter 27:1-10

There remains this very long chapter, and one shorter one in this gospel. This chapter describes the events of what Christians call Good Friday. The narrative is clear that Jesus died on the day before the Sabbath, so that clearly indicates a Friday. Of course, this assumes that we can trust the narrative. As we shall see, once again, there may be reason to be suspicious. There was less commentary on the previous chapter, and I suspect that will be true for large chunks of this one. Although, one never knows.

1 Πρωΐας δὲ γενομένης συμβούλιον ἔλαβον πάντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι τοῦ λαοῦ κατὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ὥστε θανατῶσαι αὐτόν:

2 καὶ δήσαντες αὐτὸν ἀπήγαγον καὶ παρέδωκαν Πιλάτῳ τῷ ἡγεμόνι.

Having become morning, all the high priests took a conference together and the elders of the people upon Jesus in which way to kill him.  (2) And binding him and they handed him to Pilate the Leader.

Once again to point out a fairly glaring internal inconsistency within the story as presented. Last chapter, we were told that the high priests were afraid of the crowd, so they cautioned themselves against arresting Jesus during the Festival. But, here it is, the first full day of Passover, and what are they doing? Deciding, not to arrest him, but how to kill him.

Brief grammatical note: the “to kill” is an aorist infinitive. The aorist is pretty much the standard past tense. In English, the infinitive describes an action that will occur at some point after the time of the narrative. “They discussed how to kill him”. In temporal relation to the discussion, the killing has not occurred. But since the tense of the infinitive is past, it describes an action having occurred prior to the writing. It gets a bit tricky–nigh on impossible–to preserve the full sense of the Greek in such situations. Also, whenever you get to a commentary, and the commentator makes a big deal about explaining the nuance of the aorist, put your skeptical goggles on. The aorist is a standard past tense. I tend not to be terribly impressed with the explanation of why they aorist is so significant. Sometimes it seems that commentators like to toss out the expression “aorist tense” because it sounds so exotic to speakers of post-Latin languages, which includes English since it developed at the same time as the post-Latin languages. The tense worth discussing is the optative, but I believe there are only two of these in the NT. I’m concurrently reading The Anabasis, and the optative crops up all the time. 

“Leader” is the standard Greek word for Leader. Agamemnon is described in several places as the “leader of the Argives”. This signifies that he was the military commander-in-chief, even if not the king of the entire force of the Hellenic-speaking force. It is also appropriate to use the term for “leader of the chorus” at a play, or as a term for The Emperor. The Great Scott indicates that it is used in the NT to refer to the Roman governor. I have to admit ignorance of this. I didn’t get far enough into The Antiquities in Greek to come across the term for Pilate, nor did I read The Jewish War in Greek, so I don’t actually know what Pilate’s title would be in Greek. Shame on me. 

The point, though, is that the term is less than technical. In which case, the question becomes “why use the non-technical term?” There are two reasons, I suppose. The first is that Matthew did not know the term, or that he did not think his audience would know the term. True, there could be literary considerations; perhaps he just liked the sound of the word in this context.  But if either of the first two describe the reality, this throws at least a small monkey-wrench into the machinery of my argument that Matthew was a pagan writing for pagans. Would they not have known the proper title? Perhaps, and I admit that this word cannot be dismissed; rather, it has to be explained if I am to consider my argument credible. One suggestion is that I can never remember if Pilate was the Prefect or the Procurator. The title changed after Pilate, and I can never remember which came first. Matthew may have known that the current title was not accurate, and perhaps he could not remember the previous title, so he fudged with a generic. It’s not like educated children had a civics class in which they discussed the development of the Roman governing apparatus in the Near East. Someone truly educated, like Suetonius or Tacitus or even Josephus would probably have known, but I doubt that any of the evangelists were educated to anything close to that level. The evangelists probably had HS diplomas, but the other writers had Ph.Ds.

1 Mane autem facto, consi lium inierunt omnes princi pes sacerdotum et seniores populi adversus Iesum, ut eum morti traderent.

2 Et vinctum adduxerunt eum et tradiderunt Pilato praesidi.

3 Τότε ἰδὼν Ἰούδας ὁ παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν ὅτι κατεκρίθη μεταμεληθεὶς ἔστρεψεν τὰ τριάκοντα ἀργύρια τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν καὶ πρεσβυτέροις

4 λέγων, Ημαρτον παραδοὺς αἷμα ἀθῷον. οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Τί πρὸς ἡμᾶς; σὺ ὄψῃ.

5 καὶ ῥίψας τὰ ἀργύρια εἰς τὸν ναὸν ἀνεχώρησεν, καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπήγξατο.

Then Judas the betrayer seeing him that he was condemned, repentant returned the 30 pieces of silver to the high priests and elders, (4) saying, “I sinned giving over innocent blood”. They said, what is it to us? You will see.” (5) And throwing the silver into the Temple, he left, and going away he [did something]. 

Of course, we all know that Judas hanged himself. But the Greek is not really pellucid on that. One NT Greek dictionary says there is no definition available; another translates it as “to strangle” & such, and Strong’s Words agrees with this. Liddell & Scott have nothing, and I looked via a number of different stem changes. The Latin, OTOH, is reasonably clear: laqueo se suspendit. The last two words are pretty much “hanged/hung himself”, and the laqueo is like a snare, so it’s a reference to the noose. So once again St Jerome bails us out.

And while we’re talking about words, there is the ‘innocent blood’. Some manuscript traditions have this reading as ‘just blood’. Here, the ‘just’ is the word that gets translated as “justify” most frequently. Personally, I think that this may be the more accurate reading since it is harder to, well, justify. After all, “innocent blood” is obvious; “just blood”, perhaps not so much. Be that as it may, “innocent” seems to be the more common word. All of my crib translations use “innocent”.

And while we’re on the aorist, note the “I sinned over innocent blood”. The natural way to express this in English is “I have sinned”. All my crib translations translate it this way. Indeed, even the Latin, “peccavi”, is the perfect tense: I have sinned. However, the Greek is an aorist, denoting completed action. Ergo, “I sinned”.

Got to tell this story. One of the British generals was trying to capture the Indian city of Sindh. The Home Office got a telegram from him with a single word. “Peccavi”. IOW, “I have sinned (Sindh).” Love that story, but I’m a Classics geek, so there you go. And there’s the whole imperialist theme there, too, which isn’t something to promote, but sometimes you have to push the envelope a bit.

3 Tunc videns Iudas, qui eum tradidit, quod damnatus esset, paenitentia ductus, rettulit triginta argenteos principibus sacerdotum et senioribus

4 dicens: “Peccavi tradens sanguinem innocentem”. At illi dixerunt: “Quid ad nos? Tu videris!”.

5 Et proiectis argenteis in templo, recessit et abiens laqueo se suspendit.

6 οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς λαβόντες τὰ ἀργύρια εἶπαν, Οὐκ ἔξεστιν βαλεῖν αὐτὰ εἰς τὸν κορβανᾶν, ἐπεὶ τιμὴ αἵματός ἐστιν.

7 συμβούλιον δὲ λαβόντες ἠγόρασαν ἐξ αὐτῶν τὸν Ἀγρὸν τοῦ Κεραμέως εἰς ταφὴν τοῖς ξένοις.

8 διὸ ἐκλήθη ὁ ἀγρὸς ἐκεῖνος Ἀγρὸς Αἵματος ἕως τῆς σήμερον.

9 τότε ἐπληρώθη τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἰερεμίου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Καὶ ἔλαβον τὰ τριάκοντα ἀργύρια, τὴν τιμὴν τοῦ τετιμημένου ὃν ἐτιμήσαντο ἀπὸ υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ,

10 καὶ ἔδωκαν αὐτὰ εἰς τὸν ἀγρὸν τοῦ κεραμέως, καθὰ συνέταξέν μοι κύριος.

The chief priest taking the silver said, “It is not worthy to put this in the Korban, since it is blood honour.” (7) Taking a conference they bought the Field of Potters as a burial for strangers. (8) Because of this the field was called the Blood Field until this day. (9) Then was fulfilled the writing of the prophet Jeremiah saying, “And the took the thirty silvers, the honour of having been honoured, the one they honoured from the sons of Israel. (10) And they gave this to the field of the potters, accordingly the lord arranged to me.”

A bunch of things here. First, we probably should address the translation of Verse 9. This is obviously pretty literal, probably to a fault. The word is << τιμὴ >>, and it’s a really key concept of Greek thought. The problem is, perhaps, that it doesn’t work so well in the context of Hebrew thought. Some form of the word is repeated three times in Verse 9, so I repeated it three times. The base meaning of timē is honour. In particular, it’s the honour due someone, especially to the gods, and to each god. Poseidon felt that Odysseus did not give him proper honour, so Poseidon saw fit to punish Odysseus on his journey home from Troy. In the English versions of this verse, it is rendered as “value”, at least some of the time. Honour and value may have be related in some ways, or may overlap, but they are not the same thing. In English, “value” has too much of a monetary implication that is almost (but not quite) missing from the Greek. The point is that Matthew is trying to shoehorn the words of Jeremiah into a meaning that is not entirely natural.

We’ve run across the term “korban” before, exactly once to be exact. This was in Mark 7:11, when Jesus accuses the Pharisees of not truly honouring their father and mother because they declared their goods “korban”. I didn’t understand the term at all back then, but now I have some inkling, at least. The word is probably usefully rendered as “sacred”; the Pharisees declared their goods to be sacred, dedicated to God, so they weren’t available to be used in support of father and mother. So too, here, the blood money cannot be used for sacred purposes. 

The Field of Potters. The Greek is keramaos, and you should be able to see the word “ceramic” in there. This is backed up by the Latin ‘figulus’, which is a potter. So the field was bought from the pottery section of the city, or probably adjoined this quarter, or was related in some way to the local manufacture of pottery in Jerusalem. This act has given the name “Potter’s Field” to English, meaning a burial place for the indigent. Here, however, it was for foreigners who did not have ancestral ties to the area, so they did not have family burial grounds.

6 Principes autem sacerdotum, acceptis argenteis, dixerunt: “Non licet mittere eos in corbanam, quia pretium sanguinis est”.

7 Consilio autem inito, emerunt ex illis agrum Figuli in sepulturam peregrinorum.

8 Propter hoc vocatus est ager ille ager Sanguinis usque in hodiernum diem.

9 Tunc impletum est quod dictum est per Ieremiam prophetam di centem: “Et acceperunt triginta argenteos, pretium appretiati quem appretiaverunt a filiis Israel,

10 et dederunt eos in agrum Figuli, sicut constituit mihi Dominus”.