Category Archives: General / Overview

Summary Luke Chapter 10

The most important section of this chapter, of course, was the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a landmark of Christian literature that has become so famous that it’s crossed into secular vernacular. While perhaps not quite as universally understood in English writing as it once was, it seems likely that a large majority of the English speakers in North America understand the reference to some degree. In some ways, it is perhaps the Christian morality tale par excellence. It very neatly sums up the Christian ethos of what it means to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Funny thing about that.

No doubt my impression of this story was seriously–mayhap fatally–distorted by my upbringing. The town I grew up in was small and white and Catholic; that is, there were no Jews. And then I went to a Catholic school and was largely taught religion by Dominican nuns. The result was that I had no exposure to Jewish thought, or the Jewish heritage that lay behind Christianity. Oh, the Jewish roots were acknowledged, and a sanitized version of Judaism was taught, including the stories of Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, the Flood, the Exodus and…a few odds and ends. Looking back, I realize we were taught about Genesis ad Exodus and some stuff about the Prophets and basically nothing else. As such, I had no real sense of Judaism as a religion, only that it had become ossified and sclerotic by the time of Jesus, who swept it away for an internal religion of faith and love, rather than an external, formulaic, and overly ritualized shell.

Well, guess what. The story of the Good Samaritan is very Jewish. What’s more, given the other stories in the chapter, the setting is very Jewish. These aspects were mentioned in the commentary of the translation. The fact that the man who acted as a foil to allow Jesus to introduce the central story, was learned in the Law and repeated the two Great Commandments, the story of Satan, and the very concept of a Samaritan all require an understanding of Judaism if we are to grasp fully their import and the true meaning of the story. Luke is not introducing, or even just illuminating some novel aspect of Jesus’ teaching; he is providing context in which the second commandment–love your neighbour as yourself–is truly put into practice. Who is the man’s neighbour? The priest or the Levite? Or the despised other who stops and helps the man? The full impact of the story is missed unless we understand the level of animosity between the Jewish traveler and the Samaritan who helps the man. Luke even prepped us to a degree when he told us that Jesus and his disciples were not welcomed into the Samaritan town because the residents understood that Jesus was going to Jerusalem.

So the upshot is that this is a story of how Judaism should be practised. And throughout the HS, there are numerous instances where the author regales the audience with injunctions about social justice. There was the story in Mark, repeated in Matthew, about Jesus chastising the Pharisees for the way they declared their property korban, holy, as in dedicated to the Temple, when the Pharisees should have been honouring their mothers and fathers by assisting them financially with this property. Ezra and Nehemiah, which tell of the time when the Jews were allowed to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple are full of injunctions about social justice, admonishing the rich for trodding roughly on the poor. This would be another example of not “loving your neighbor as yourself”. So Luke is not introducing novel examples of how to behave with one another. He’s not even expanding on the teachings that undergirded the desired behaviour. He is providing an excellent and concrete example of what the desired behaviour looks like. This, he is saying, is how one love’s one neighbor as oneself.

This is not to say, however, that Luke might have something of a novel slant on the matter. Why does the lawyer want to know how to behave? What is his motivation? He wants to know what he must do to gain eternal life. By this point it should be clear that the idea of the immortal soul, more or less as Christians conceive of it, was not derived from Judaism, but from the Greeks. Now, by the time of Jesus, Judea had been ruled by Greek-speakers (this includes Romans; educated Romans, who were the governing class, were largely bilingual in Latin and Greek) since the time of Alexander the Great, more than 300 years. Greek thought and philosophy had been incrementally seeping into the educated class of Jews, who were learning Greek and abandoning the Aramaic native to Judea at the time. All major metropolitan centres had significant Jewish enclaves, the educated members of these expatriate populations learned Greek. The epitome of this is Philo of Alexandria, who was both a Jewish scholar and more or less a thoroughgoing Platonist. The result was that the idea of an immortal soul had penetrated into Jewish thinking. I suspect (but do not know for certain) that this is the root of the idea of the resurrection of the dead that the Pharisees held as a central tenet.

The point is, even the desire for eternal life had Jewish antecedents, even if those antecedents had Greek antecedents, which they certainly did. As a result, the idea the lawyer was asking how to gain eternal life is not a distinctly Christian thought process. The lawyer (or generic young man, as Mark called him) asking about gaining eternal life could represent someone fully within mainstream Jewish thought of the time.

All of this matters for various reasons. I was Googling for the answer to..something else, which led me to the question of whether this parable is considered authentic; that is, do scholars believe that this came directly from Jesus. According to the overwhelming number of scholars in the Jesus Seminar, the answer is a resounding YES!!! Apparently some 60% code it as red (definitely authentic) and another 29% code it pink (probably authentic). A quick calculation shows that puts us at 89% positive, against only 4% negative. I often criticise the Q proponents for not considering content when they consider authenticity. Apparently the Jesus Seminar only considers content. This group, however, is very vague about transmission. How did this parable kick around for 50+ years, totally evade Mark and Matthew, and then appear in Luke? IOW, there is no provenance for the parable. It simply appears. Yes, it resembles other Jewish/midrasnhic material, but that’s so general as to be pretty much meaningless. Parables do resemble each other; that’s how they get classified as parables. But there is another element. One blog I found said that, of course this is authentic, because it sounds so much like other stuff Jesus said. To which I respond: give me an example of this similarity from Mark or Matthew, or preferably both. To point: there are none. Mark’s parables include the Mustard Seed and the Sower; neither of these are similar to the Good Samaritan in either form or content. The parable of the Wicked Tenants does more closely resemble the form of the Good Samaritan, but the content is not at all similar. It’s not a description of proper behaviour; rather, it’s a tale of what has happened, and what will happen to those wicked tenants. There is no real morality tale. And I would seriously argue that the Wicked Tenants is much later than Jesus. After all, it presumes the understanding that the landlord’s son is Jesus, and that we all know Jesus died, was killed by other wicked tenants. More, this parable comes from the Christ section of Mark, which likely originated only after Jesus’ death, a belief propagated, if not created, by Paul. Other possibilities would be the Parable of the Vineyard workers, but that does not appear in Mark. So, the parable presents severe difficulties both on the question of provenance and content. I do not see how this can be considered authentic.

This requires a lot more discussion than is appropriate for a summary like this.

This discussion about the lawyer/young man has interesting implications for the Q debate. All three of the Synoptics contain a story where someone from the crowd asks Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. This person was described by Mark as a young man and by Matthew a lawyer. In those two versions Jesus responds by reciting the decalogue. When the man says he has done these things, Jesus then tells him to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. Luke changes this; he alters the external circumstances and ends up making a slightly different point. These alterations suggest that this is another of those stories where Luke saw that M&M had covered the topic very well already, so he engaged his poetic license to provide a slightly different message. We have noticed that Luke does this when M&M tell essentially the same story in much the same way. That, to me, is a significant clue, a telling indication that Luke was, indeed, aware of Matthew, since he seems to know when to do this. In contrast, Luke has Jesus asking the man about the commandments; he’s turned the situation around. When the man answers with the Great Commandment, or the two Great Commandments, Luke uses the man’s answer as an entrée point to the Good Samaritan. Deucedly clever! However, the key aspect about this story is that only Matthew and Luke say that the man was a lawyer. So here we have a very clear case where Luke agrees with Matthew against Mark. The Q mantra is that this never happens. So how to explain this situation where it does? The answer is: they don’t. They ignore these situations and pretend that they didn’t happen.

We should at least mention the 70/72. Here again is something that obviously dates from a time much later than Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have stories about the sending of the Twelve; Luke alone has the Seventy. Why? As discussed, this serves two purposes. Perhaps the most important is that it allows Jesus’ direct disciples to cover a lot more ground than the Twelve could have done. As such, it allows all the different Christian communities scattered throughout much of the Mediterranean basin to imagine, to believe, that their community was, indeed, founded by a direct disciple of Jesus. The historical context here is doubtless key. As Acts proves beyond doubt, the story of Paul had become part of the background knowledge of an evangelist–assuming the identity of authorship of Luke and Acts. As such, there was likely to be greater scrutiny of who was saying what; recall Paul’s “different gospel”. As such, being able to trace one’s lineage back to the Mayflower, or to the Conqueror. This is important because it allows the disparate communities to have a sense of cohesion, that they are all the same group, that they share a common belief system. As the network of communities grew, and as they became aware of one another, this sense of unity would be desirable from both human and doctrinal standpoints. In addition, we have yet another occurrence of the need to dispense with Jewish dietary laws. Upon being sent out, they are told to “eat whatever is put in front of you”; IOW, if they serve you pork, eat it. We’ve come across three or four of these so far, and there will be at least one more in Acts. Giving permission to ignore this aspect of Judaism was very important for the early proto-Christian and Christian communities. Too strict an insistence on maintaining them would have greatly restricted the spread of the new religion. Indeed Paul had figured this out by the time he wrote Galatians. And yet, other subsequent writers felt the need to include their own version of Jesus giving the OK for this. Very important, indeed.

Finally there is the story of Martha and Mariam. As with the injunction about eating, we have a post-Jesus approval of women taking an active interest in matters of doctrine. Jesus himself reproves Martha’s remonstrance against her sister’s un-womanly behavior. This I think is an indication of the importance of the role women had assumed by the time Luke wrote. Otherwise, there would be no need for such an ex post facto from Jesus. The time when Luke is writing is perhaps an especially fluid time, the point where the forward momentum of the movement was creating a sense of how widespread the acceptance of Jesus had become–hence the 70–but it was before a true hierarchy had settled in and taken control. That would come in the next few decades.

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Summary Luke Chapter 2

This chapter includes the birth narrative, the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and Jesus’ adventure in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. The birth narrative is the more famous of the two, with most of the details that we think of as surrounding the birth of Jesus: the journey of Mary & Joseph to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the manger, the shepherds who were sore afraid, and the heavenly host. The only details missing from the popular iconography of Christmas are the star and the Magoi; the Slaughter of the Innocents and the flight to Egypt do not play a large role in Christmas pageants around the country. In fact, we are told that all of Matthew’s themes are completely absent from Luke, so obviously Luke never read Matthew.

Or did he?

This bears repeating: thematically, Luke is very, very closely tied to the elements that Matthew added. To list them once again, Luke accepts the idea of a virgin giving birth, that the child conceived to the virgin was by way of the sacred breath, the announcement of this news came by angel-messenger, that Mary’s husband’s name was Joseph, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Even the timing of the birth is correlated to Matthew by putting the story of the birth of the Baptist in the reign of Herod, even though Jesus was born in the governorship of Quirinius. All of these details are found ony in Matthew. But it goes beyond even these details. Matthew is very keen to tell us that Jesus was the son of God, and that his birth was a world-historical event, heralded by a star. Well, Luke says that Jesus was the son of God, and that his birth was heralded by a heavenly host. And what is a star if not a different sort of heavenly host? Instead of magoi from the East, Luke gives us prophets in the Temple of Jerusalem. It is in this way that Luke conveys the prophecy of Jesus’ birth, but to the Jews rather than pagans. The shepherds in Luke fill the role of the Magoi in another way: in Matthew, people travel great distances, but the locals pretty much ignored the event. In Luke, both the locals (the shepherds) and the prophets (in Jerusalem) were aware of Jesus’ birth. So in both accounts it’s clear that the coming of Jesus was a world-historical event, presaged, foretold, and recognized and having been fulfilled.

In fact, if you tally up the different aspects of the story, pretty well all of them are found in Luke, but in altered form. But the alterations seem to dovetail very nicely and in complement, like a very well-crafted piece of furniture, with joints that are precise to the point of being invisible. What I am saying is that it feels, like Luke took the story of Matthew, digested the elements, took a step back, and then reconstituted these elements in a way that they carry the implication–and much of the fine detail–of Matthew and convey the message while providing an entirely different context for the different elements. The apparently complete lack of overlap between the two is more apparent than real, which, to my mind, signifies deliberate intent rather than creating an account that is wholly unaware of its predecessor. This is a very crucial point.

Much of the minimal argument that is put forth for Q rests on two things. The first is that Luke is completely unaware of places that Matthew added to Mark. Second is that Luke never, not once (well, except the “brood of vipers” thing from the Baptist) puts a story from Mark in the same context as Matthew does. Well, if Luke did follow Matthew in adding to, or changing Mark, that becomes Q material pretty much by definition; after all, Q is exactly that stuff that Matthew and Luke have that Mark doesn’t. So strike #1. As for #2, just by sheer dumb probability, Luke should have put at least one story from Mark in the same context that Matthew did. That this did not happen at all defies probability. If Luke’s choices were made completely independently of Matthew, there should be at least a couple of places where Luke used the same context as Matthew. The implication then becomes that, since he did not make the same placement, it’s because Luke chose not to make the same placement because he knew exactly where Matthew put the same stories. This fits in very nicely with what I’m saying about the nativity story, and Chapter 2 as a whole: Luke very nicely works around Matthew, he supplements and complements Matthew, but he also knows exactly where not to go. Matthew has pagan Magoi; Luke has Jewish prophecies. Matthew has a star; Luke has a multitude of the heavenly host. In each case, they announce the birth of Jesus. Luke’s placement, so far, has been very strategic.

There is one further aspect of this that needs to be mentioned. It has been pointed out numerous times that the story of Paul’s conversion that he provides in Galatians is very different from the more familiar version we find in Acts. The latter has the whole Road to Damascus immediacy and flamboyance. However, if you think about the experience being described, and think about what Paul says and take it allegorically, with a large dollop of drama added, the two descriptions are not dissimilar in their fundamentals. Yes, the outward appearance is very different, but the interior experience…maybe not so much. Both describe a revelation, a sudden and violent shift in perception; that one occurs while Paul is riding a horse and involves a blinding light, both of which are external events, or events perceived through the outward-facing senses, doesn’t change the inner experience. A sudden insight of life-changing proportions can certainly seem like a blinding flash of light; or, perhaps that’s a particularly effective way to describe the sensation to someone else.

Whether or not this is convincing or not will depend, I believe and to some extent, on whether one is willing to concede that a host of angels in the sky is another metaphor for the sudden appearance of a star. Both are miraculous; at least, the sudden appearance of a star would seem miraculous to someone unfamiliar with the concept of a supernova, which can cause a star to appear quite suddenly. And so the angels came and went. Suddenly. I believe there is a connexion, how each is a metaphor describing a celestial phenomenon meant to herald the occurrence of an event of great significance. If we notice that Luke does this on a consistent basis, then we have at least the potential for an argument that this is, indeed, what Luke was doing. And if he’s doing this, then he was bloody damn well aware of Matthew. And if Luke does this to Paul as well, then the case becomes stronger. In each case, I think, what Luke adds is the element of drama, in the sense of both stage direction and character development, but also heightened expectations and even dramatic tension. That is certainly true about Paul’s conversion.

So, in short, Chapter 2 is the backstory of Jesus. It’s about his birth in some detail, it adds episodes from Jesus’ early life. It also expands the role of Mary, something that I’ve been meaning to mention, but the time has not seemed ripe. Joseph remains a cipher; for whatever reasons, the cult of Joseph did not start to blossom until much later, to the point that he ended up the patron saint of Italy. But even then, he was not a truly popular figure who attracted tales and adventures. I suspect this is because he disappears so early in the story. He appears only in Chapter 1 of Matthew, and then only at the beginning. In Luke he makes it to Chapter 2, but that’s only after being wholly absent from Chapter 1. And it also occurs to me that Luke was very careful to tell his audience about the divine conception even before Joseph makes an appearance. Here is yet another way that Luke continues the story, retaining the character of Joseph, but also supplementing the story introduced by Matthew, smoothing out the rough edge of Joseph considering divorce. Matthew “corrected” the “problem” of Jesus having no father, leaving him open to charges of being illegitimate. Then Luke “corrects” the account of Matthew, eliminating completely the whole illegitimate thing. After all, Mary was pregnant when she was betrothed to/married to Joseph; the presumption was that the child had been fathered by another man, which was grounds for “putting her aside”. With Luke, that whole possibility of embarrassment is proactively eliminated by having the messenger Gabriel announce her impending conception before it happens. We do not know how the news was broken to Joseph, but that’s not really important; remember, Luke is not writing an account that he expects people to take seriously in all the details.

The point is, much is made of how different the birth stories are; why would Luke change Matthew? Answer: I’m not sure he did. He adds to Matthew, but nothing he says contradicts Matthew. He even retains most of Matthew’s additions to Mark: Joseph, virgin birth, annunciation by angels, reign of Herod, the birth heralded by celestial phenomena, Jesus’ identity understood by wise people, and probably a few other things that I’ve forgotten. Personally, I believe that I’m building a pretty decent case that Luke was very well aware of Matthew.

Summary Luke Chapter 1-Update

The very large bulk of this chapter is dedicated to the story of John the Baptist. Or, rather, it’s given over to his rather miraculous origins. As such, calling this the Chapter of John the Baptist is not much of a stretch. Yes, we also have the story of the Annunciation, which became a major event on the Catholic calendar, but that is really sort of shoe-horned in amongst the tale of John’s parents and his parentage. This attention to John should tell us a lot about what the early church thought about Jesus’ precursor.

There have been countless times when I have encountered protestations that the early church was embarrassed by the connexion of Jesus to the Baptist. This chapter should drive a stake through the heart of that idea; indeed, this chapter should have driven that stake centuries ago. Time and again I have pointed out that one does not expand the attention given to a character that is supposed to be an embarrassment. Mark introduces John; there, if one is not paying attention, one could consider John is decidedly a second-, or even third-tier character. He appears, we are told a bit about him, he baptises Jesus, he gets executed. But think about that; given that Mark is not a terribly long gospel, the amount of space given to John is not inconsequential. So, even in Mark, we have the sense that John is someone important. Worse, from the Christian standpoint, is that Jesus seeks out John, and the John is the one performing the ritual baptism on Jesus, putting the Jesus in a decidedly inferior position. This is the source of the embarrassment.

If we accept that early, or proto-Christians found this embarrassing, we should expect that Matthew would take steps to downplay, or even omit entirely, the episode of the baptism. On the contrary, Matthew increases John’s role by giving him dialogue. More, this dialogue is supposedly part of Q, which supposedly means this dialogue was deemed important enough to be included in what is suppose to be a collection of Jesus’ teachings. More, it was included in Christian lore from a very early time in the development of the belief system. So, on one hand, John was embarrassing, but his teaching was included in sayings of Jesus; the two of those don’t quite match, do they? This is, yet another, indication that Q is not to be taken seriously; the definition of what Q is supposed to be changes to fit the circumstances the Q people wish to explain. John’s “brood of vipers” speech is found in Matthew and (spoiler alert!) Luke, but not Mark. Ergo, by definition, it had to have been part of Q or the tidy package of Q’s contents begins to unravel a bit. If there is material in Matthew and Luke that is not in Mark, but it’s not part of Q, then that opens the door to questions about what else in Matthew and Luke but not Mark (M&LbnM) might not be part of Q? And if we start picking out such pieces, the raison d’être for Q starts to come apart.

So, if Q is eliminated–as it should have been a century ago–and yet Matthew gave John dialogue that was not in Mark, then we are faced with the situation where Matthew is focusing even more on a personage about whom he’s supposed to be embarrassed. But wait, there’s more. Luke then follows up with expanding John’s story even more. The result of this expansion is the bulk of this chapter. This enlargement of John’s character fits very nicely into the way that legends grow. A name is remembered–or invented–in the first layer of the story. As time passes, the name attracts stories. I keep going back to the Arthur legend, but it is such a good example of the process. First we get Launcelot. Then Guinevere (or the other way around). Then we get their adulterous affair. Then Launcelot has a bastard son. Then that bastard son is given a name, and eventually Galahad becomes one of the knights who find the Grail. And so on. So, in the early layer, we get John. Matthew kinda sorta gives John some lines, the sort of thing that he thinks John woulda shoulda coulda said. Then Luke comes along and gives John a lineage. And not only is John not swept under the rug, he’s made into a kinsman of Jesus! They are first cousins!

Really, though, what Luke has done is to complete the domestication of John. The embarrassment of John was that Jesus began by seeking him out for baptism, putting Jesus in the subordinate role; it wasn’t John per se. Matthew, rather half-heartedly, attempts to solve the problem by having John demur upon Jesus’ request for baptism, John saying that it is he who should be baptised by Jesus. Very nice, but not enough for Luke. The new interpretation that Luke provides is brilliant, because it both elevates John while subordinating him even further. For when Mary goes to visit, even in utero John recognises that he is in the presence of the divine lord. His mother states that she is truly blessed to be visited by the mother of her lord. Zacharias provides a prophesy that is sort of a greatest hits from the HS, a compilation of prophecies that could be applied to Jesus, but all of them emphasizing John’s role as the precursor and herald of the mightier Jesus. It is Jesus who is the one everyone has been waiting for. John has been sent to make straight Jesus’ path. All of this emphasizes and re-emphasizes that it is John, not Jesus, who plays the subordinate role.

Even so, Luke subordinates John while raising him to nearly divine heights himself. John’s conception is modeled after that of Isaac, and no one with even a cursory knowledge of Hebrew myth would–could–miss this. John is conceived by a barren woman who is past the age of child-bearing, just as Sarah was before Elisabeth. In other words, John was important enough to the cosmic scheme that God himself intervened in order to make sure that John is conceived. And beyond that, he sent a messenger to tell Zacharias, just as the angels came to visit Abram, and his descendant Joseph. All in all, this indicates that John has a most important role to play in the unfolding of the divine plan; the subtle genius of Luke is that, by making John so important, he double-underscores the even greater significance of Jesus. After all, if God went to all this trouble about John, and John is just the herald, then well boy howdy Jesus must really be important. So Luke’s tale provides a double-whammy, kills two birds with one stone, and all those other two-for-one clichés. This is quite an accomplishment.

When discussing the messenger, Gabriel, sent to Zacharias, we mentioned the parallel to Matthew. He, too, had an angel reveal to Joseph the identity and the provenance of the child in Mary’s womb. This messenger returns, this time with a name. This is the first time in the NT that an angel is named. Michael appeared in Daniel, which would be the first canonical naming of an angel. It is interesting to note that 1 Enoch mentions Gabriel and six others; the date of 1 Enoch is the source of much speculation; most often it seems like it’s put in either of the first centuries, whether before or during the Common Era. This makes it possible, or even likely, that Luke got the name from 1 Enoch, if not directly, then indirectly because this angelology was in circulation in the time that Luke was writing. Did Matthew not name his angel because he wasn’t aware of 1 Enoch, or that angels were being given names? That strikes me as a very interesting question, one that could have some bearing on the date of 1 Enoch, pushing it later, rather than earlier. The other aspect of this is where did Matthew and Luke write? If Matthew wrote in Antioch, and Luke wrote in Rome, how is it that Luke (seemingly) knew about Enoch but Matthew didn’t? The point of all of this is that, once again, Luke is expanding on a theme introduced by Matthew. He doesn’t repeat Matthew, but he takes the basic concept, uses it, and enlarges the story.

Along with that, of course, is the idea of the virgin birth. As mentioned, this theme is found only in Matthew and Luke. It wasn’t part of the overall tradition, because it doesn’t show up anywhere else. Nor is it considered part of Q, largely because there is no single point of contact between the two gospels. And yet, there it is, along with the messenger of God and (spoiler alert!) Bethlehem. But we’ll get to that shortly.

It would be remiss not to say something about the Annunciation. Except I have no idea what to say about it. It’s another way that Luke expands on Matthew, although the announcement comes to Mary, and not to Joseph. This may be significant. But enough for now. On to Chapter Two.

Update: A possible explanation for the Annunciation has just occurred to me. Recall that, in Matthew, Joseph was not aware of the conception of Jesus by the sacred breath. The messenger had to come and tell Joseph so that he wouldn’t divorce Mary for carrying the child of another man. This way, that bit of awkwardness is eliminated; we all know going in that Jesus was of divine origin, and so Joseph has no need to contemplate divorce.

Robber or Rebel? The Meaning of “lestes”

During the course of the two gospels, we’ve touched on the book by Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth. In that book, Aslan claims that Jesus was indeed a zealot, and that he was crucified for his rebellious activities. Two key props for his argument are that crucifixion was reserved for rebels, and that the word used to describe the two men crucified with Jesus << lestes >> specifically meant rebel.

At this point I have not done a summary view of all records of crucifixion, and have not performed a statistical analysis on the reasons why the Romans crucified these people. A famous example is the mass crucifixion of thousands of rebels following the suppression of the rebellion of Spartacus. Certainly, these men were rebels, and they were crucified in punishment. But saying only rebels were crucified is a bit of a black swan argument: no number of examples of white swans can prove that black swans don’t exist; one black swan, however, proves that they do. So, no number of crucified rebels will prove that only rebels were crucified, but even a handful of non-rebels will prove that this punishment was not reserved for this class of individuals.

The other argument he uses is that the word “lestes” specifically means ‘rebel’. Liddell and Scott, who have to be considered THE authoritative source for Greek vocabulary, disagree. So do Lewis and Short, who hold the same position for Latin vocabulary. In the Vulgate translation of this section, St Jerome translated “lestes” as “latro, latronis“*. As I have mentioned before, given that the sample size of Latin texts is much larger than that of Greek texts, seeing how the Vulgate renders a specific word can give us some clues to the meaning of the underlying Greek word, especially if the latter is rarely used. Now, the Greek word “lestes” is not terribly unusual, but I think it is still useful to see how it gets translated into Latin by St Jerome. Bear in mind that Jerome was bilingual; he was adept in Greek, even if Latin was his primary language. What word does he use?

First, I also want to point out that we have the episode of the Cleansing of the Temple to consider. Recall the “den of thieves” declamation used by Jesus? Well, the word there is “lestes“, the same word as is used of the two men crucified with Jesus. To the best of my knowledge, this passage has never been translated as “den of insurrectionists”. So this alone is almost a mortal wound to Aslan’s argument. And again, the Vulgate renders the Greek with the Latin word “latro, latronis”.

The final nail in the coffin is provided by the Latin author Apuleius. He wrote, among other things, a work called Metamorphoses, a Greek word that got taken wholesale into Latin via transliteration. It means pretty much what it does in English: a change in shape. In the Penguin edition that I have, the title is rendered as The Golden Ass, because the main action of the book involves the adventures of the main character after he has been magically, and mistakenly, transformed from a person into a donkey. In any case, shortly after his transformation, he is stolen by some bandits, who use him to haul away stolen goods. The word used? Latro, latronis. This example is even more useful than the Vulgate because it was written in the Second Century, much closer to Matthew than it was to the Vulgate. So we can have a substantial level of certainty that the word had not changed, had not undergone a metamorphosis, coming to mean simply “bandit/thief” whereas in NT times it had meant rebel.

As of this writing, I have no idea how Aslan’s book has been received in circles of biblical scholarship. I don’t know if it has been thoroughly refuted and rejected by most biblical academics. I do know, however, that it has seeped into popular consciousness. I recently had a Facebook debate with someone who put Aslan’s thesis forward as accepted fact. This is truly unfortunate. It’s also pretty much dead wrong. If this thesis has been absorbed into biblical scholarship, I despair of it even more than I did before.

* The base meaning of “latro, latronis” is “mercenary soldier”. From there it turned into “freebooter”; unpaid mercenaries had a tendency to extract their arrears of wages by plundering whomever was unfortunate enough to be at hand. This tradition was alive and well during the Thirty Years War. From there, it came to be “robber”. “bandit”, “thief”. These words are not completely interchangeable, but close enough. In particular, “bandit” has the sense of a group of outlaws living in desolate places where they’re hard to find, preying on unsuspecting travelers. Aslan tries to suggest that such bandits were actually insurrectionists, but that is simply stretching the word past its breaking point,

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.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

During the hiatus, I’m doing a couple of things to keep occupied. First, I’m reading the Penguin translation of Josephus’ The Jewish War. Technically, I’m re-reading it, but the first time was so long ago that I don’t think it counts. At the outset, I must note that the translation is pretty bad; it’s sort of like watching a movie from the 40s, with all the out-of-date colloquialisms. One of my profs once described the Penguin of Herodotus as “slap-happy”; I get that now.  The content is good; sort of. One point in its favour is that it’s not the Antiquities of the Jews. This latter is a much-longer reworking of the same period of history. Much longer. Much of this added length comes from long speeches by the principle characters. These speeches are bad enough here, but they can be very tedious in the Antiquities. I’ve just gotten through the reign of Herod the Great (died 4 BCE). According to Matthew, Jesus was born during Herod’s reign; Luke says it was while Quirinius was governor. The problem is that these two did not overlap. Quirinius held the position he did largely as the result of what happened after Herod died. Matthew also says Herod perpetrated the Massacre of the Innocents; Josephus does not mention this heinous act, nor does any other source. The upshot is that we do not know when Jesus was born, exactly. Maybe if you split the difference between the time of Herod’s death and that of Quirinius’ accession, the Year 1 may not be that far off. Regardless, this inconsistency is a pretty good indication that Jesus’ followers didn’t know when he was born either; it also presents a pretty good argument that the birth narratives were created later.

But back to Josephus. It’s interesting to note that the two works sometimes contradict each other. And when you stop to ask “how could Josephus have known some of this stuff?”, it starts to make a sharp historian wonder about Josephus’ overall reliability. Now, he lived through and participated in the events of the Jewish War, so some of that goes away. Perhaps more unsettling, if more subtle, is his penchant for the lurid details. Anyway, I’m finding it a bit of a slog.

The other thing I’m doing is reading Aristotle’s On The Soul in Greek. I started to just read the English, but it’s gotten to the point that I don’t trust translations. For history, it doesn’t matter so much. For theology and philosophy, it matters a lot. And funny thing about that: I bought the Loeb, so there is a built-in translation. But I was having such a hard time reconciling what I was getting with what the Loeb translation said that I found another translation on-line, this one from MIT. That was better, but both really stretched things regarding the Greek. And this is what made me realize why reading Aristotle in English can be so strained. The Greek allows grammatical connexions that require verbal gymnastics to get across in English. This usually means nested subordinate clauses. I won’t go so far as to say it’s easier to understand in Greek–at least, not yet. But I will say that, once you get past the Greek, the concepts are probably easier to grasp in the original. And the Greek isn’t that hard; however, there are a number of words that Aristotle uses in a technical sense. Once I found that list, (helps to read the Introduction sometimes), the sailing got a lot smoother. But, I’m not very far in, so I haven’t gotten to the meat of the argument yet. The purpose of reading this is to get some insight on what Paul, Mark, and Matthew may mean when they use the word “psyche”. For the title of the work in Greek (transliterated) is “Peri Psyche”. That becomes “De Anima” in Latin. And the standard translation of “psyche” in the Vulgate is “anima”. Once you notice that this is the root of “animal”, perhaps you begin to see the problem. After all, most Western Christian theology is based on Latin translations. And just to confuse matters even more, “soul” is a German root, coming in with its own linguistic field.

Still typing with one finger, so this took a lot longer to write than anticipated. It was supposed to be much shorter, but I do tend to run on.

A Cursory Review of Bart Ehrman’s “Jesus Before The Gospels”

The book in question is the latest of Ehrman’s works. In a nutshell, the book is not without merit, but it’s not exactly a must-read either.

The main focus of the book is to discuss human memory, and how it relates to oral traditions that are passed on for any length of time without the benefit of being written down. Much of what he discusses is not exactly new; perhaps a half-decade ago the New Yorker had an article discussing the latest findings on eyewitness testimony. But having it put into this context is definitely a good thing. To make a long story short, eyewitness testimony is extremely unreliable. Just because someone was on the scene and saw what happened does not make them a reliable witness. Obviously, this has enormous implications for the criminal justice system because eyewitness testimony is often the evidence that clinches a conviction. Unfortunately, any number of people who have been convicted on such evidence were, in fact, innocent. The overturning of convictions based on DNA evidence has shown how unreliable eyewitness testimony is. People don’t always see what they think they did, of course, but the real problem is that human memory is very often fallacious.

That is the crux of the book: that we cannot trust memories. Study after study, dating back a century or even more, has shown that memory just does not work very well most of the time. More, it can be influenced significantly by outside suggestion, like the questions of a prosecuting attorney. A great test of this is to talk to siblings about something that happened as children, and different members of the family will remember very different events. And it’s not just the interpretation of events, but the basic facts. We were in the blue Chevy. No, it was the red Ford. I was wearing my cowboy boots. No, this was the year before you got them. Et cetera. But that’s not all: one member of the discussion can introduce something absolutely wrong, something completely fabricated, and other members of the discussion will often come to accept this as fact. Then, when these other members recount the story, they incorporate these fabrications into the story and will swear up and down that the fabrication happened, and that s/he can remember it as plain as day.

Of course these new revelations about the evidence of memory carries a tremendous impact for the likely historicity of the events of Jesus’ life. Since there was no written record, and since the stories of Jesus were passed down orally for forty years, these “memories” are very likely to have been corrupted, distorted, or flat-out fabricated somewhere along the way. In fact, taking Ehrman’s arguments to their logical conclusion, there is approximately zero probability that any of the stories of Jesus happened in any way even vaguely resembling the way they’re described. If they happened at all.

Before anyone brings up the whole “oral tradition” thing, Ehrman deals with that as well. It turns out that oral traditions–think The Iliad–are not all that reliable in the way that we usually think of the term. We’ve mentioned family events, and how differently they are remembered. Long stories passed down orally have an enormous amount of variation in each telling. Different anthropologists have sat with different groups of oral story tellers on numerous occasions and have come to an interesting conclusion. When a long story is related orally, the same storyteller can–and will, and does–tell the same story differently on different occasions. On every different occasion. The different variants have been recorded and compared and they are not only different, but the length of the story can vary with each telling. Sometimes the second telling is twice as long–or half as long–as the first. And yet, the storyteller will insist that the story is absolutely the same. The conclusion is that, in an oral tradition, “reciting” a story is synonymous with “composing” the story as the teller goes along. This strikes us as incredible. Impossible, even, but there it is. Anyone familiar with Homer knows that Achilles is fleet of foot, or that Odysseos is a wily sacker of cities, or that the child of morning is rosy-fingered Dawn*. More, these epithets are repeated dozens of times throughout the work. What these rote phrases do is give the poet a moment to reflect and decide what comes next. The implication of all this is that the idea of a single, unvarying story is a creation of the written word. It does not exist in oral traditions. Anyone who’s actually read primary sources of Greek myth realizes that there is no one “gospel truth” text for a lot of myths. They can and do vary from telling to telling. The playwrights, perhaps Euripides in particular, did not feel compelled to tell the story the way that Hesiod had told it.

[ * As an aside, each figure usually has two or three such epithets. The poet uses different ones to fit different aspects of the metre. So sometimes Achilles is fleet of foot; at others, he is the son of Peleus. ]

So we have a toxic combination of bad memories combined with unstable  oral traditions. This is why we might question whether we can trust anything. This is a very useful thing to keep in mind when reading the NT, the basis of which is stories told (presumably) by eyewitnesses and passed down for a few decades before being written down. Based on Ehrman’s argument, or his evidence, we cannot be sure any of it happened.

This is a tad disconcerting, to say the least.

One thing that I found interesting is the way he describes that we see the past through the lens of the present. Thus, some of the stories told about Jesus are actually more about the group telling the story 10 or 20 or 30 years later than it is about the time of Jesus. Ehrman uses the example of John’s virulent antipathy towards “the Jews”. This was, he reasons, probably a story told by a group that had come into serious and protracted conflict with “the Jews”. That is, it dates from a time when Christians had Jews has become pretty much separated, which necessarily means the stories date from a time decades after Jesus. Just so, the stories of the Destruction–the so-called apocalyptic teachings of Jesus–actually date to a time after the destruction of Jerusalem in the Jewish war. Odd, but Ehrman doesn’t draw that conclusion about the apocalyptic stories. I wonder why.

There are two main flaws in the book. The first is that, while it clocks in at 295 pages, he could have gotten the same point across in perhaps half that time. He gives five examples when two would have sufficed, that sort of thing. This is annoying, but only minimally so. It means I skimmed over pages at a time. So this is minor.

The real problem is in the approach he takes. He tells us repeatedly that the memories, as recorded, are likely unreliable; but he never, ever, not once steps back to ask if the people telling the stories were at all concerned that the facts may not have been accurate. It never seems to occur to him that factual accuracy may not have been the point of the authors of the NT. The authors of the gospels were writing neither history or nor biography; it was hagiography. The failure to understand this, or at least acknowledge that the possibility that this possibility exists, is a major flaw in my opinion. He is examining the text on terms that may not have been important to the task the authors were setting out to accomplish.

In the end, it comes down to a difference in philosophy between Dr Ehrman and me. He is bringing in as much evidence as he can to perform valid source criticism. The gods know that people like Martin Luther and others have been psych0-analyzed a hundred times in order to get at their motivations so we can explain why they really did what they did. In a lot of cases, perhaps particularly in the case of Luther, the why didn’t matter so much, largely because he didn’t do or say anything all that different from what others had said before him. The difference was that the world was ready to listen to Luther when it hadn’t been willing to listen to Jan Huss, for example. And the difference in motivation between Peter Valdes (founder of the Waldensian heretics) was not very different from that of St Francis of Assisi, yet one became a heretic and the other a saint because the world perceived them differently (an oversimplification, of course, but general statements are always oversimplifications, and pretty much by definition). Source criticism is crucial to good historical method, to the point of being sine qua non. However, in this case, it seems that perhaps Dr. Ehrman should have paused a moment to ask if this method, as applied in this set of circumstances, is a useful tool.

Taking his implications to their logical conclusion, we must infer that nothing in the NT has any real basis in fact. Now, one could argue that this is not only a valid inference (it likely is), but that it’s also a true inference. Are we prepared to say that?

Then the point becomes that, prepared or not, we are compelled, by weight of evidence, to make that statement; however, I have to disagree. This may be true logically, but it’s not necessarily true in a real sense. In the course of reading Matthew, the question of whether something can trace back to Jesus has become increasingly prominent in our method of examining the text. Since the technique is mine, I obviously believe that it’s  not only a valid line of inquiry, but also a fruitful one. And the results have been that much–if not most–of what we have read in Matthew seemingly does not trace back to Jesus. Ehrman would agree with this, and in the book presents examples of situations that almost certainly originate in post-resurrection conditions. There are some sayings, however, where this is not necessarily true. The Parable of the Sower contains nothing that requires it to be post-Jesus. Did Jesus speak the words that we read? Perhaps not, perhaps most likely not. Did he use the analogy of the sower? Possibly. Did he speak about the kingdom? Probably. Or, it’s probable that he probably did.

In some ways this is being way too critical of Ehrman and his method. He provides an excellent caveat about the trustworthiness–or otherwise–of what we are told in the gospels. We do well to keep this in mind. As such, the book is very well written and very effective. The accounts are not trustworthy at face value. But the book is, perhaps, a starting place rather than a final destination. To get to the latter, we have to apply the principles of historical criticism. Fortunately, that is what we’ve been doing right along. It is gratifying to note that, in those examples he cites that we have covered, he has corroborated my analysis. So we’re definitely on the right track here.

Summary Matthew Chapter 19

Once again, we have a chapter in which the material is largely a recapitulation of material in Mark. Divorce, the children, the young man with the many possessions that prevent him from following Jesus. Rather than summarize this and thereby risking redundancy, let’s try to focus on the aspects of this that are not in Mark. The first comes in the early part of the chapter, just after the discussion of divorce. In fact, there are two novel items here. The first is Peter’s statement that it is, perhaps, better not to marry. The second brings eunuchs into the conversation, which plays off the idea of whether it’s better to marry or not.

Mark was content to have Jesus declare that divorce was not allowed. Matthew adds this other element. Think for a moment: does this line of questioning remind us of anything else we’ve read? It seems to hearken back to some of Paul’s discussions of the topic. In fact, if you look up “gameo” in Strong’s Concordance, you will see that the various forms of the word “to marry” are concentrated in Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7. Is this a coincidence? Or is this evidence that Matthew was aware of that epistle? I am not sure what the orthodoxy on this is, whether it’s generally accepted that Matthew was familiar with at least some of the Pauline corpus or not. In this case, I would suggest that it seems like Matthew may have been familiar with some of 1 Corinthians, in that he had a general idea of the gist of that letter, while perhaps not having a written copy himself. Or, if he did have a written copy, he may not have agreed with it completely. I suggest the latter because the ideas expressed by Matthew overlap with, but are not exactly what we find in 1 Corinthians.

The key to the similarity is Peter’s question. This is the main clue that should make us ask whether there is direct influence as opposed to the two writers arriving at a similar place independently of each other. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul spends a fair bit of time discussing marital status: whether one should marry, or if one should become unmarried, or if one can remarry, and so on. Peter drives right at this very point. But more, Jesus, much more succinctly than Paul, provides essentially the same answer, albeit with very different verbiage. Just as Paul says it’s better to marry than to burn, so Jesus says that not everyone can be a eunuch, if only in a figurative sense. These latter, he says, those who choose to live as eunuchs willingly, do this to gain the kingdom of the heavens.

As with so many questions of influence that we’ve encountered, a definitive answer eludes us. Or, perhaps the answer is that we cannot, given the evidence of the text, state with any confidence that Matthew had read 1 Corinthians in any depth. What this appears to show us is that Matthew had become aware that certain members of the community, or of some community, had posed the question of whether one should marry or not. It is possible that the person or persons raising this question may have asked on there own behalf; however, given that Jesus here pretty much summarizes Paul’s more elaborate response, what seems most likely is that Matthew became aware of this teaching in an attenuated form, that he had heard the question and the response, but most likely without having seen or heard the actual text of Paul. Remember that there were most likely a number different traditions, so that the same idea came to the evangelists via different routes should not surprise us. And it occurs to me that we also have the concept of the Life/life eternal in this chapter, which I also suspect came from Paul. With the combination of these two in this chapter, it would be tempting to see this as Matthew tapping into a stream of Pauline teaching; however, the use of the Life was also in Mark, so that rather precludes the notion that Matthew was getting the two ideas together.

In the discussion of Mark 10, where the parallel to this discussion of divorce occurs, we didn’t speculate on the provenance of Jesus’ pronunciation of “what no man has joined…” Did Jesus say this? Or was it a later interpolation? Something that James said? Or did it come from Paul? This latter is an interesting point, because I just went back and checked, and I see that Paul admonished the community about marriage; however, what he said is that a woman must not divorce her husband. There is no correlating admonishment that a husband must not divorce his wife, as we have here. In the comment to the chapter, I was leaning towards this actually coming from Jesus; the break with tradition would have been a significant development, and we have seen, really, so few of these from Jesus that it’s a wonder that he was remembered at all. Now, however, reading what Paul said, I’m leaning the other way. Paul is emphatic that his message came “from the lord”; be that as it may, what this means is that Paul is expressing what he (most likely sincerely) believes that Jesus “told” him in a revelation. What this means is that we have a situation analogous to that of the dietary laws: Jesus left no record behind, so subsequent apostles or authors relied on inspiration to provide what they (no doubt sincerely) believed Jesus would have said had he been asked the question. This is, after all, the technique that Thucydides used to report speeches that he had not actually heard. This was not an uncommon practice in the ancient world; the idea of a verbatim transcript was alien; what mattered was the intent, not the actual words. And and Paul believed, as Matthew did after him, that they were faithfully recording the intent of Jesus, even where there was no actual record of Jesus ever addressing the topic.

In addition, since Paul tells us that a woman cannot divorce her husband, but says nothing about whether a husband could divorce his wife is a pretty clear indication that he and Matthew were on different wavelengths. Matthew provides the more stringent rule; for if the husband cannot, then of course the wife cannot. Paul specifies the rule for the wife, but the unstated assumption, or inference, is that, of course, the husband can divorce the wife. So what this means is that the restriction of divorce had become more stringent in the generation or two after Paul wrote. The proper question in which case, is “why?” Unfortunately, I’m not sure we can answer that. Oh, we can speculate, and toss out theories that may or may not seem plausible, but we’ll simply never really know, barring some unexpected find of a new document.

So once again, I believe this is a later addition to the teachings of Jesus; as such, we are faced with a question of provenance. Since this is contrary to standard practice among Jews of the First Century, James may seem an unlikely choice. As the “Judaizer” par excellence, we would not normally see his hand in something that contravenes standard practice. One could argue that he was restoring what he saw as a right tradition, just as Jesus railed against the practice of “korban”. But both of these trace to Mark, and usually that makes me suspect that these sentiments did not come from James, that they were in place before the Jacobean corpus had become absorbed into the mainstream teachings of Jesus’ followers. So if not James, and not Jesus, this leaves Paul. But we have seen that what Jesus says here is rather different than what Paul recounts as the lord’s dictum on the topic. So whence? The most likely scenario is Paul, but a mutated version of Paul. The Apostle to the Gentiles started many communities; as such, he planted a lot of seeds. Many of these seeds, upon growing, would have been subject to other influences and likely mutated a bit. And in this chapter we have already had another possible instance of Pauline teaching that’s changed a bit around the edges with regards to marital status, why couldn’t this have come along with the other? As such we have a situation in which the concentric circles of Paul’s teachings start to overlap those of Mark and James/Matthew. And these are exactly the sort of circumstances we should expect to find, as the word of Jesus spread from a number of different foci. We may not have Pauline writing yet, but it’s getting there. It will be interesting to see if Paul’s influence is felt more definitively when we get to Luke.

The last bit in this chapter concerns the (young) man of great wealth, and the eye of the needle. In keeping with the approach taken so far in this summary, the point on which we should focus is where Matthew differs from Mark. The camel and the needle, after all, has been discussed; although I’m not sure if we discussed whether Jesus said this, and perhaps we should. On the plus side, this occurred in Mark. As such, it stands almost a generation closer to Jesus than Matthew, and so is less likely to have been influenced by the teaching of James. On the minus side, the disparagement of wealth was not something Paul took seriously. He was concerned with “social justice” in 1 Corinthians when he admonished the wealthy for eating and drinking to excess when other members of the community were going hungry. For the most part, Paul was expecting the return of Jesus daily, so things like social justice didn’t matter all that much since the end was so near. Also on the minus side, this disparagement of wealth is sort of a peripheral topic for Mark and Matthew. It’s not really something that–surprisingly–Jesus talks about all that often. The result is that the minus side seems to have the most points in its favour, even if they do not add up to a terribly strong case. I suppose that, on the plus side, we could add the aphoristic quality of “a camel can more easily pass through the eye of a needle”, which shows a deft turn of phrase. This is the sort of thing that a cynic sage would have said; and Burton Mack’s position is that is what Jesus was, more or less. And I agree that sayings like this would be the sort of thing that got Jesus remembered. The problem is that Mark’s gospel really does not portray Jesus in this light; rather, Jesus is a wonder-worker, so we are justified to ask what the evidence for this truly is. Realistically, the evidence for Jesus the Cynic is thin indeed, and would much more apply to the Jesus of Matthew and Luke, which was well after the time that the legend had been able to develop.

So it’s a toss-up at best. Flip a coin. If I had to give an answer, I would say it’s not. My gut actually tells me that it is authentic Jesus, but I don’t think I trust it in this instance.

This leaves the element that Matthew adds to Mark: the question of Peter. If the rich can’t be saved, who can? This, I think, has James’ fingerprints on it. Here is a true turn of social norms, where wealth is not a moral quality, or it doesn’t represent moral behaviour, the reward for God’s favour. I suppose one could argue that the turn in values is already in Mark, with the eye of the needle expression, but the remarkable aspect is Peter’s incredulity at this. At the very least, the addition of the question indicates, I believe, that between Mark and Matthew this caught enough people short, so that Matthew felt it necessary to add this addendum, thereby clarifying and emphasizing the point of this. If that’s the case, then we can actually subtract James from the equation, and that does seem to make sense.

Regardless of wherever, or from whomever this is derived, the thought expressed represents a pretty significant turn of attitude in the development of western thinking. I’m reading a compilation of primary source material on heresies of the high Middle Ages, called Heresies of the High Middle Ages, edited by Wakefield and Evans (known in the literature as WEH), and the idea of apostolic poverty plays a huge part in so many of the heretical movements described. The idea that wealth didn’t represent virtue, but that poverty did, was a completely novel idea; in some ways, it’s expressed here for the very first time. “If the rich can’t be saved, who can?” is not a question that had ever been asked before. Even Jewish thought didn’t go this far; the calls were for social justice, a reasonably equitable distribution of wealth, admonitions that the wealthy not take advantage of the poor, but nothing about the wealthy as being non-salvageable. The Cynics–Diogenes and those who followed in his footsteps–spurned wealth, but there was no moral taint necessarily attached to wealth per se; really, Diogenes and the Cynics were more odd than morally superior. It is possible that this innovation of thought originated with the Baptist; his hermit’s existence wasn’t so far removed from the Cynic lifestyle (ceteris paribus), but the addition of a call to repent was something of an innovation. This novelty would help explain his popularity to some degree. The Cynics were in it for themselves, really, they did not openly and actively call for others to join them as the Baptist did. And given the presence of the camel and needle aphorism in Mark, that this originated with John is not out of the question. But given the way Jesus explicitly notes how he is unlike John–Jesus was, after all, a glutton and a drunkard–it seems clear that this aspect of John’s teaching was not wholeheartedly embraced by Jesus and his followers.

Ergo, by process of elimination, I would speculate that the moral taint of wealth was originated by the Baptist, but that the realization expressed by Peter only arose after–perhaps long after–Jesus’ death. I would name James as the most likely suspect. Of course, this assumes that we can trust the tradition that consistently associates James with concern for the poor; we have Paul telling us this, and we have the association of James with the Ebionites. Given my general scorn for tradition, it might seem curious that I’m willing to trust it in this case. I do this for three reasons. First, because I want to believe it. Never, ever discount the power of this to influence the thinking of anyone: whether it be me, you, or some unnamed third party. The motivating factor of wanting to believe something because it fits your preconceived world-view is, quite simply, enormous. Second, we do have Paul mentioning James’ admonition that he not forget the poor in the report of the Synod of Jerusalem. Finally, the concern with poverty (blessed are the poor/poor in spirit) increases significantly with Matthew and Luke; that is, after the principles emphasized during James’ leadership of the followers had been given sufficient time to permeate the message as a whole.

This is not iron-clad evidence, but I’m willing to listen to alternatives. I only hope I’m still willing to give alternatives a fair hearing, that I’m not so set in my theories that I will discount anything that doesn’t fit. I realize I’m dangerously close to that line; at times, no doubt I’ve crossed it. This is what happens to all scholars, eventually, which leads to embarrassing rear-guard actions by aging professors who fight the new theories tooth and nail, long past the time when the theories they argued in their youth have been superseded by the new. The king is dead. Long live the king. Or, more modernly, meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Summary Matthew Chapter 9

On the surface, this is a chapter about healing stories, with a very brief exorcism tossed into the mix. Most of the stories were also in Mark, so we are provided the opportunity to see the differences in the way the two handle the themes. For the most part, Matthew’s versions are shorter, lacking in the richness in the narrative detail supplied by Mark. This is semi-astonishing, if you think about it. After all, the knock against Mark is his brevity; and yet, it’s Matthew who’s abridging the stories he found in the earlier gospel. This, I believe clinches what is called “Markan priority”, that Mark wrote his gospel first. That Matthew shortens the tales when he is the more developed writer is a pretty clear indication that Mark was the original. That, and the way Jesus’ identity develops. Note: I have repeatedly said that legends grow with time, and point to the Arthur legend as an example. That Matthew abridges Mark’s tales seems to contradict this, indicating that either I’m wrong about legends, or that Matthew wrote first. Yes, the individual tales have been shortened; but the overall legend has grown. We have a new character, Joseph, introduced. Jesus has a dialogue with the devil. Jesus talks non-stop for three chapters. These are of a wholly different character than cutting some details from various stories.

Because much/most of the material is re-worked from Mark, the real heart of the commentary has to take place between the lines, as it were. One of the more interesting insights in the chapter, I believe, is the idea that Jesus is having a dinner party for sinners and tax collectors in his house. Matthew makes this clear, where Mark sort of beat around the bush about the matter. Perhaps Jesus was not poor. But also Jesus did not believe, apparently, that fasting was all that necessary. Incidentally, these two facts–that Jesus had means, and a house, and did not beg for meals–sort of shoot some big gaping holes in Bertram Mack’s thesis that Jesus was a Cynic sage. The man who hosts a dinner party for tax collectors was not begging for meals the way Cynics did. In this episode we also get the contrast between the disciples of the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus tries to make light of his attitude on fasting, but the comparison of himself to the bridegroom feels a bit forced, IMO. It also feels like something that was invented afterwards, but I don’t feel strongly enough about that to create the argument. I believe the contrast between the Baptist and Jesus was real; I’m only sure of the smart-aleck response.

As for the contrast, this chapter was good for disabusing me of some residual pro-Christian (Roman Rite, no less) propaganda that I was fed as a lad. It seems like the good nuns of Maple Grove St Michaels maybe played up the Christian aspect and downplayed the contributions of Judaism. The ideas of asceticism and fasting were ones I attributed to the Christians. In fact, it seems quite the opposite. It was the Jews who were more attentive to these practices. And the quote from Hosea definitely makes me question aspects of the religious education I was given. “I want compassion, and not sacrifice” is exactly the sort of attitude that I would have attributed to the innovation of Christians. Well, guess I was wrong about that! The Jews, I was told, were practitioners of a formalized, ritualized, outwardly-focused religion that emphasized the act and not the attitude. For Christians, of course, the point was our interior attitudes. Well, not quite. To be fair to those nuns, much the same thing was said about the pagan religions: that they were all about the actions and not the attitude. RL Fox pretty much blew that one out of the water. So, really, Christian scholars perhaps over-emphasized the transition that Christianity represented over these more outwardly-focused practices of the world-milieu in which Christianity developed. Fortunately, we know a little better now. And the thing is, it’s right here in the text. All we have to do is read it.

So this leads to the question of “what was different about Christianity?” How was Jesus different from his Jewish and pagan peers? That’s a good question, and I’m not sure there is a single answer. Or rather, I think Mark and Matthew provide somewhat different answers to that question. The biggest contrast comes, I think, with the idea behind the story of the new wine in the old skins, compared to the attitudes of the Beatitudes. That is, in Mark, we have Jesus consorting with tax collectors and sinners, whereas in Matthew we have the Sermon on the Mount. I have the sense that there is a qualitative difference between the attitudes described in these two approaches. The outreach to sinners is part of the Baptist’s call to repentance. The sick, not the healthy, need a doctor. Blessing the poor in spirit, those hungering for justice, the persecuted, however,  presents a different message than to call sinners to repent.

The new wine in old skins came from Mark; it possibly contains an eschatological message about the current order of things being swept away. But Matthew tells us that the Law will not be abrogated; it will remain intact until the heavens and earth pass away; of course, immediately after saying this, he then pretty much has Jesus contradicting known tenets of Jewish Law. It is tempting to interpret this as a backing away from the immediate expectation of the Parousia. Paul expected it daily; Mark expected it within a generation. Matthew–well, we don’t know yet. It’s tempting to see the change in emphasis from the sinners and tax collectors to the poor in spirit as a re-interpretation of what is meant by “eschatology”.  I think there has been a transition from Jewish apocalyptic thinking to Christian apocalyptic thinking. That is, rather than a heaven on earth where the faithful will be rewarded by the re-establishment of the Kingdom of David, we are moving to a heaven in the heavens, where the poor in spirit will be rewarded with…eternal life. There were hints of this in Mark, and hints of this so far in Matthew, but it hasn’t become explicitly explicit. At least not quite yet. So, in a way, I’m seeing this metaphor as very pivotal to the message of the chapter.

The one story in the chapter that is unique to Matthew is the story of the healing of the two blind men. If Matthew wants to downplay Jesus-as-wonder-worker, why add a tale of healing? I honestly don’t have a good answer for that. I don’t even have a bad answer. And it’s not like there’s anything particularly special about the story, either.The story is very brief: they are healed based on their faith, and they go out and spread the word about Jesus. The whole thing lacks texture and detail and any sense of depth. Mark’s stories like this are much more…well, they’re just more. They have more narrative, more impact, more sense that these were real people and not stage props as one almost feels about these two men. But, really, this no more–or less–so than the paper-thin narratives Matthew gives us about Jairus’ daughter, the bleeding woman, and the Gadarene/Gerasene demonaic. In the end, the question remains: why did Matthew add it?

It’s interesting to note how badly I’m scrabbling around trying to find more to say about the chapter. What my inability to come up with more thematic analysis indicates, IMO, is that the chapter seemed rather perfunctory, that it was written without much enthusiasm on the part of the author. Matthew retold a bunch of stories of Mark, and told them without much interest and without much commitment. The conclusion to be drawn, I think, is that a change in emphasis, a shift in the direction, has occurred. Matthew was not satisfied with Mark’s version, Matthew wanted to tell a different sort of story, but he did not feel that he could simply ignore Mark, so Matthew kept the stories but not the focus. We’ll have to see where Matthew’s interest lies as we move ahead with more of this gospel.

So, even if Chapter 9 did not present much that was new in the way of stories, it is a very important chapter because it provides very clear evidence of how the message about Jesus was changing over time.

Summary Matthew Chapter 8

The overall theme of this chapter is miracles. We had the leper, the centurion’s boy, Peter’s mother-in-law, calming the sea, and finished with the Gadarene demonaic. Most of these stories were in Mark, with the exception of the centurion’s boy. With the exception of the latter, Matthew’s versions of the stories were shorter, with fewer details.

What does this mean? Or imply? The overall sense is an attempt to brush by the exorcism stories, and to de-emphasize the miracle stories; if this latter is true, so why does Matthew invent–or at least insert*–an entirely new miracle story? I think that the lesser emphasis on Mark, and the greater emphasis on the centurion is all part of the same phenomenon. The audience has changed. By and large, the idea of demonic possession was not of much interest to a Graeco-Roman audience. The idea of demonic possession just does not occur all that often in Classical literature. Magic is certainly prominent, but not demons. Why? Because, by and large, the idea of demons was, to a great degree, a Christian phenomenon. I don’t mean that the idea did not exist before Christians; JB Russell certainly disproves that in The Devil, the first volume of his history of the concept of the Devil. And Satan was part of Jewish tradition. But it was the interaction of the new Christian theology in its struggle with paganism that really developed the idea of demons. The pagan gods were largely ambivalent; they would do good, they would do bad. Yes, there was Ahriman, the principal of evil (really, of darkness, but it came to be more or less the same thing) in Zoroastrianism. And the Greeks had kakodaimones, “bad daimons” to distinguish them from the beneficent daimons, such as the one who famously counseled Socrates. But, as a rule, they didn’t go around possessing people.

[*Yes, the official view is that this story was in Q. Preposterous. This is a story that makes much more sense in the 80s than in the 40s or 50s. Q is supposed to be a sayings gospel, on the order of Gospel of Thomas, except when it has all these narrative stories, like the dialogue between Jesus and Satan during the temptations, here with this story, and others. Which is it? A collection of sayings? Or another nearly complete gospel? Gospel of Thomas has nothing like this, so if that’s the paradigm for Q, then there’s no way this was included. The Q proponents want it both ways, and that is a huge problem.]

Christians–as the Jews before them–were a tad ambivalent about the existence of other deities. Strike that. They were very clear about the existence of a single God, but they by no means denied the existence of other supernatural beings. Nor did they deny (for the most part; there were Christian thinkers who did exactly that) that these supernatural beings had power and could create wonders. So it was the steady, and very literal demonization of these pagan gods that really swelled the ranks and the power of Satan, the Great Enemy. We have the “diabolos”, the slanderer who tempted Jesus, and Mark mentions ‘ho satannos’, Satan. So Christians most certainly did not invent these ideas, but they only became the integral part of the culture-world and thought-world after a few centuries of the development of Christian thought. Like with other things, the Christians sort of merged Jewish and pagan thought into something different, even if it wasn’t quite, and certainly not wholly, new.

So what are the implications of the way that Matthew downplayed the story of the Gerasene/Gadarene demonaic?

To start our thinking about this, I believe we are justified in taking this as a story that came to Mark via oral tradition. It’s too elaborate, it has too many details, it’s too different from Mark’s standard laconic style. What this means is that Jesus had been known as, and was remembered as, a wonder-worker by one significant segment of those who were, or became followers of Jesus after the crucifixion. And I think it’s important to understand that this segment of Jesus’ followers probably did not overlap with the groups that Paul founded. It is tempting here to infer that Mark was more attuned to traditions that were localized in the areas around Judea and Galilee, and the traditions perhaps had not percolated to the pagan communities that Paul converted. Thus, the inference is that Jesus was remembered locally–in Judea and Galilee and environs–more as a wonder-worker than as the Christ. Wonder-workers are not outside the Judaic culture- or thought-world. Josephus mentions, and Ehrman talks about Honi the Circle Maker as a figure not dissimilar–in some ways–to Jesus in Judaic lore.

Recall how we discussed that Mark has, seemingly, two thematic components. The first, perhaps the earliest, is the wonder-worker tradition, of which the story of the Gerasene demonaic is one of the climactic pieces. The other component is the Christ tradition, which sort of takes over the narrative towards the end, with Chapters 7/8/9 being sort of the transition ground. This is the tradition of Paul. Matthew, seemingly, picks up the story from the Christ tradition. So we have the transition from the wonder-worker to the Christ in place by the time Matthew decided to write his gospel. The question to ask in conjunction with this is, do we have a change of audience, too?

Traditionally, Mark was part of Peter’s retinue. So, since Peter was, traditionally, martyred in Rome, it was more or less assumed that Mark wrote in Rome. However, a lot of this is based on stuff that the early and later patristic thinkers wrote, culminating with Eusebios and his Ecclesiastical History. The problem is, I do not believe that Eusebios is particularly trustworthy. He was, essentially, writing the official biography of the Church up to that point. He had too much of a vested interest, and so had too much incentive to tell anything but the official line that would best suit the needs of the Church as it existed in his lifetime. The truth is, we have no idea whether Paul or Peter ever went to Rome, let alone that they were martyred there. Peter in Rome suited the needs of the Bishop of Rome in his claims to a primacy over all the other bishops. Even Clement, the fourth bishop of Rome (Linus, Cletus, Clement…that was part of the Catholic mass at one point) has a real interest in claiming to be the successor of Peter, so the tradition is suspect from the outset.

So if Mark didn’t write in Rome, then where? Well, the Aramaic sayings, nicely translated, indicate a place outside of Galilee and/or Judea. OK, that’s great. But there were a substantial number of Jews for whom Greek would have been their native tongue. Paul is perhaps one; Philo of Alexandria is another; and then there’s Matthew, who read the LXX translation rather than the Hebrew Torah. So Mark could still have been writing for a largely, if not exclusively, Jewish audience even if he felt the need to translate the Aramaic expressions. The tradition, again dating back to the patristic thinkers, is that Matthew originally wrote in Aramaic; however, there is no evidence for this other than their say-so, and this was a group who believed that Matthew wrote first. As such, I’m not inclined to take their word on this, or much of anything else for that matter. Claiming that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic is part-and-parcel of their belief (probably more like “fervent wish”) that Matthew was the original gospel. Writing in Aramaic would have put Matthew closer to Jesus, in both time and space. This would make it unnecessary to explain the inconvenient fact that so much of Jesus’ teaching is absent from Mark.

So, let’s put some pieces together. (1) The Christ tradition seems, perhaps, to have taken root largely among pagan communities. That is a bit of a leap, I realize; it’s based on the fact that Paul preached the Christ tradition, and he preached primarily to pagans. We do not know what James and the Jerusalem community taught, but, thanks to Paul, we do know it was something much closer to mainline Judaism, given its insistence on maintaining dietary laws and circumcision for even adult male converts. Given the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, and those in the Didache, it’s not entirely far-fetched to say that the followers who adhered to more Jewish practice were probably not in the forefront of the Christ tradition. (2) Matthew preaches the Christ tradition. In fact, he insists on not only Jesus as the Christ, but Jesus as divine. The Christ could be fitted into the Judaic mainstream, but the latter could not. Ergo, there exists the strong possibility that Matthew was not directing his gospel at a primarily Jewish audience. A generation had passed since Mark wrote, and since the destruction of the Temple, and more than a generation had passed since the death of James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem community. In addition, much of the Jesus movement in Judea, and possibly Galilee, may have dissipated with the death of James and the destruction of the city. As such, the centre of gravity for the Jesus movement had moved outside its homeland. IOW, the Jesus movement was now concentrated in areas that had been pagan. They may well have had, and probably did have, significant Jewish communities, but they were not traditionally or historically Jewish areas. (3) The idea of a divine son of a god was very familiar to pagans. This was a recurring theme in pagan literature and legend, whereas demonic possession was not. So the fact that Matthew is preaching a divine being, a son of God (rather than a god), and that Matthew is not quite so focused on demonic possession could easily be seen to signify that Matthew had tailored his message to a predominantly pagan audience. Where Mark sort of straddled the middle, Matthew was picking up where Mark ended, and de-emphasizing, or playing down the wonder-worker and exorcist. (4) In Chapter 8, Matthew has a story that was completely absent from Mark. The focus of the story is a Roman centurion, a man of significant position and authority in the Roman army. The centurions were, more or less, the senior NCOs, the sergeants, and everyone who understands the military realizes these are the backbone of the army. They run things on the day-to-day, boots on the ground level. They aren’t concerned with strategy or logistics; their job is to ensure that decisions made at the higher levels got carried out, and effectively. So this is a man who was of the people, but a leader of the people. He was not a born aristocrat as the officers were. He was a career military man. So gaining his respect, and counting him as a follower of Jesus would have been a powerful message to a pagan audience who would have understood the man’s importance. This man came to Jesus for help. And not only did Jesus not spurn him, he not only helped the man, but, to conclude, Jesus held the man out as a sterling example for Jews. And that’s still not the end. Jesus then tells this man that it’s people like him, not the sons of Israel, who will be counted as the heirs of the kingdom of the heavens.

Add these together, and it’s pretty clear why Matthew downplayed the story of the Gadarene demonaic, and substituted the story of the centurion’s boy. Matthew was now writing for pagans. I think we can be reasonably certain of that from this point forward; however, I will continue to tally up the evidence as it presents itself.

Thus, the significance of Chapter 8 is that it represents the point where we can take it for granted that, whatever his personal background, Matthew was not primarily concerned with converting Jews any longer. The Christians he was now preaching to were not former Jews; rather, they were mostly former pagans. That is, admittedly, a pretty bold statement, but I believe it’s borne out by the evidence and the internal logic of the text. This is what happens when one reads this as an historical–albeit an inadvertent one–document.