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Summary Luke Chapter 6

Supposedly, this chapter is about Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, which takes up nearly the entire chapter. In actual fact, however, the theme of this chapter is Q. So much of the Q debate is taken up by the sheer brilliance of the Sermon on the Mount, that we are forced to compare Luke’s Sermon on the Plain to that other masterpiece. It has been decreed that this version of the Q material preserves a more primitive version of Q, and that this version is decidedly inferior. Those statements are not to be gainsaid if one wishes to be included in polite company of NT scholars. Well, the problem is that I’m not an NT scholar (or, I suppose, a scholar of any sort, except maybe a wannabe…), so I’ll likely never be invited into polite company, anyway, so I can throw a few bricks, or, with luck, start a food fight. It’s time we talked about the content of the two gospels.

Let’s start at the very beginning. Matthew says they went up the mountain. Luke says they went up the mountain, but came back down, and then he stresses that he began speaking on a plain. Luke does not sort of drift off, leaving it vague; he very specifically says “a level place”. So which is the original? Remember, Luke supposedly preserves the more primitive version of Q, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Oh, right, alternating primitivity. Either way, if this came from Q, Luke had to decide to bring Jesus down from the mountain and stand in a level place. Why does he do this? Why not leave him on the mountain? Or did Luke make the change exactly because Matthew had Jesus on the mountain? Is this the emergence of the puckish humor of Luke? That he’s sort of tweaking Matthew a bit? We mentioned that in the penultimate section, in which Luke launched into a stream of unusual words that are not found in Matthew, and very few other places as far as that goes.

But there’s even a more basic question. The Gospel of Thomas is a sayings gospel. Its discovery was hailed as a vindication of the Q thesis, demonstrating that sayings gospels were, indeed, written. Since it was a sayings gospel, it was immediately declared to be very early, tracing back to Jesus himself (perhaps), and proving that Q could exist, which basically meant Thomas was taken to prove that Q did exist. But Thomas has one striking dissimilarity to Q, as reconstructed. Thomas has no physical descriptions of place or action. Pretty much everything starts with “Jesus said…” And yet, the reconstructed Q is full of all sorts of physical descriptions and settings in place such as the “up/down the mountain”. Thomas does not have stuff from the Baptist. It doesn’t talk about centurions. It is, truly, what we would expect of a “sayings” gospel. Reconstructed Q, on the other hand, simply is not. There is stuff from the Baptist, and physical description. And there is so much of this that those doing the reconstructing were more or less forced to say that it all came from Q. Otherwise, how to explain the overlaps? It’s impossible to do so without either putting this extraneous stuff in Q, or admitting that Luke read Matthew. Since the latter has to be rejected on ideological grounds, the former is the only choice.

The upshot, right from the start, we have a pretty good indication that Luke was, indeed, aware of Matthew. He was aware that Matthew’s sermon was on a mountain, so Luke put his on a level place. Why? The Q people say I have to explain every deviation from Matthew in a manner that is supported by a consistent editorial attitude. So I posit mine to be puckish humor. That suggestion comes with a guarantee of originality, that you will not find that in the, ahem, serious literature. And I don’t mean to be flippant or facetious. My suggestion is entirely serious, if only to show the range of interpretation that is possible in these situations. “Deadly serious” is not the only setting for discussion, just because it’s the default setting. I’m going to continue to look for this humourous edge throughout the gospel. Let’s see how that stands up to scrutiny.

So Matthew has the primitive “up the mountain”, but Luke has the primitive version of the first Beatitude. Matthew’s poor are poor in spirit; Luke’s are just poor. This is not a matter of primitive vs developed. It’s a situation in which each evangelist is saying a very different thing. Puckish humor again? Perhaps a bit more wry this time, with a bit of an edge. “Poor in spirit” is all very fine and good, but what about those who are just poor? And not only do they hunger and thirst for justice, they’re just damn hungry. Yes, this is more primitive, if by that you mean the more pointedly addressing fundamental needs. Why do they hunger for justice? Because they’re poor, really poor, and not just “poor in spirit”. Being poor in spirit almost implies that they are not poor in actuality, that we are not discussing physical privation, but sort of a moral discomfort. So yes, it is quite easy to say that Luke is more primitive, but he’s also more righteous.

There is one more aspect of “primitivity” that sorely needs to be addressed. The idea that one version or the other is more primitive completely begs the question. It assumes that there is a total of three versions; one is original, and the other two are derivative. Ergo, one of the derivatives is more primitive than the other. But if there is no third version, to say that Matthew or Luke is more primitive becomes meaningless. In all cases, Matthew is the more “primitive” because it was written most of a generation earlier. So discussing primitivity is meaningless absent Q; discussing primitivity assumes the existence of Q, which is what we’re trying to determine, whether Q existed or not. By shifting the battleground to discussions of primitivity, the Q people have already won the debate since we’re now taking Q as given. This is admittedly deft rhetoric, but it’s also bad logic.

There’s another aspect of Q that never gets discussed. This has to do with the actual content of the sayings. Do they truly seem appropriate to the time in which they were, supposedly, uttered? Or do they make more sense to a later time and place? If the latter, what does that do to the idea of Q? Especially if these anachronisms are repeated in both Matthew and Luke? That really puts a crimp into the supporting pillars of the Q position. I keep coming back to what Q is supposed to be: a collection of sayings that predate Mark and presumably Paul and trace back to Jesus, usually by way of one of his close associates. The list of eligible associates is probably limited to Peter, Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee. They perhaps did not write the sayings themselves, but they remembered them and dictated them to a scribe. From this list we can strike Peter, because he was John Mark’s source for the first gospel to be written. According to church tradition, Mark the Evangelist was John Mark, the associate of Paul. Mark went to Rome and became part of Peter’s community, and Peter provided the information for Mark’s gospel. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum: Mark’s gospel does not include any of the so-called Q material. This means one of several things, the most likely of which is that the entire tradition is a later fabrication. Either John Mark was not Mark the Evangelist, or Peter never went to Rome or whatever, but wherever Mark got his material for the gospel, it likely did not come from an eyewitness to Jesus because the source, or sources, were completely ignorant of most of the really important stuff that Jesus said. This ignorance, in turn, is predicated on the data that Q existed and that it is an accurate record of what Jesus actually said. The result is that there is a gaping hole in the explanation provided; it then becomes a question of figuring out the most likely location of that hole.

This leaves us with a couple of choices: either Mark’s gospel did not derive from an eyewitness account, or Jesus didn’t say the things in Q. There are others, such as that Mark chose not to include Jesus’ teachings; however, that strikes me as a bit unlikely. Why on earth would Mark’s source not tell Mark what Jesus taught, or why would Mark deliberately choose to leave this stuff out of the gospel?  I would really like to hear someone try to explain that one.

Another consideration is whether the things Q says Jesus said make sense for Jesus’ time. We touched on this in the commentary, in verses 22 & 23, in which they are blessed who are reviled for Jesus’ sake. These seem to be references to some sort of “persecution” of the followers of Jesus. As pointed out, there is no indication in any of the gospel accounts that Jesus or his followers really suffered any kind of persecution during his lifetime. Yes, we have the account of Paul, but that came later. So we are faced with the situation in which something that Jesus said is likely due to circumstances that only came about after Jesus’ death. And we know that Jesus said this because it’s part of the Q material, and we know that it’s part of the Q material because it’s included in both Matthew and Luke. But if it is unlikely that Jesus said this, that makes the Q hypothesis rather untenable because it, apparently, includes material from after the time of Jesus’ death.

Which leads us to one of the more annoying aspects of the Q hypothesis. In order to cover some of these embarrassing moments, it is posited that Q exists in strata, in layers, that accumulated through time. The implication of this is that some of the material obviously does not trace back to Jesus. This is an eminently convenient suggestion, because it means that Q can include whatever those reconstructing it say it includes. In this way it has all sorts of stuff that a true sayings gospel does not have. We also mentioned this in the commentary: Thomas is a true sayings gospel. Virtually all the passages begin with “Jesus said”. This is how a true sayings gospel should be set up. Much of the hullaballoo about Thomas was that it vindicated the Q theory by being a sayings gospel. Well, Q is not a true sayings gospel. It includes too much extraneous information about John the Baptist, the set-up for the Centurion’s son/servant, the setting of Jesus going up the mountain. All this points to a Q thesis that is not internally consistent, which makes the construction of the entire story suspect.

The point of all this is simple. When the Q debate is taken from the safe environs the Q people have created for it, the conclusions are not nearly so secure. The implication of this is that a legitimate Q debate needs to happen.

Luke Chapter 6:46-49 (Conclusion)

There’s no way this section isn’t going to be short. We have a total of four verses. Of course, this is another story allegedly from Q, from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount vs Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, so there will likely be some back-and-forth on that. Who knows what will turn up? So, without any further ado, let’s proceed to the 


46 Τί δέ με καλεῖτε, Κύριε κύριε, καὶ οὐ ποιεῖτε ἃ λέγω;

47 πᾶς ὁ ἐρχόμενος πρός με καὶ ἀκούων μου τῶν λόγων καὶ ποιῶν αὐτούς, ὑποδείξω ὑμῖν τίνι ἐστὶν ὅμοιος:

48 ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδομοῦντι οἰκίαν ὃς ἔσκαψεν καὶ ἐβάθυνεν καὶ ἔθηκεν θεμέλιον ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν: πλημμύρης δὲ γενομένης προσέρηξεν ὁ ποταμὸς τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσεν σαλεῦσαι αὐτὴν διὰ τὸ καλῶς οἰκοδομῆσθαι αὐτήν.

49 ὁ δὲ ἀκούσας καὶ μὴ ποιήσας ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδομήσαντι οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν χωρὶς θεμελίου, ἧ προσέρηξεν ὁ ποταμός, καὶ εὐθὺς συνέπεσεν, καὶ ἐγένετο τὸ ῥῆγμα τῆς οἰκίας ἐκείνης μέγα.

“And why does someone call me, “Lord, lord,” and not do what I say? (47) All coming towards me and hearing the words of me and doing them, I will show you someone the same as this: (48) he is like unto a person building a home who dug and went deep and placed the foundation upon the rock. There became a flood the river beat that house, and not strong to shake it on account of the beautiful building of it. (49) And the one hearing is not like the man building his house upon the land without a foundation, which the river battered and immediately it collapsed, and it became a great ruin of that house.”

First of all, Luke is really going to town on the unusual vocabulary. About a half-dozen of the words in here occur in Luke and nowhere else in the NT. Recall how a few verses back we got the bit about lending at interest, which Matthew used but once while Luke jammed it in three times in two verses. Here, we had Luke slavishly following the verbiage of, ahem, Matthew–I mean Q–in the story of the good and bad trees, only then to cut loose and let fly with barrage of fairly obscure words, to the point that there is very little overlap of vocabulary between Luke’s version and Matthew’s. What do we make of that? Is it me? Am I the only one who sees a bit of puckish humour in Luke’s approach here? Given the enormous creative ability of Luke as an author–the author of The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, etc–and Luke’s obvious depth of Greek vocabulary, would we not expect him to come up with more stories like this one, in which he does not follow the letter of Q so closely? This proves beyond doubt that he had the capability, so why didn’t he do it more often? I don’t know the answer to that; nor do I fully understand whether the number of times Luke adheres to “Q” (by which I mean Matthew) vs the number of times he doesn’t supports or undercuts my dismissal of Q. No doubt a decent rhetorician could make the case either way. Heck, if I thought about it, I could probably argue it either way.

And again, either the previous example or this one could easily be written off, but do not the two of them together add up to something a bit more? That’s a very difficult question, but it’s one I would like to see discussed in the context of the pro/con arguments for Q. And it’s exactly the sort of thing that we do not see in the literature, and more’s the pity.

46 Quid autem vocatis me: “Domine, Domine”, et non facitis, quae dico?

47 Omnis, qui venit ad me et audit sermones meos et facit eos, ostendam vobis cui similis sit:

48 similis est homini aedificanti domum, qui fodit in altum et posuit fundamentum supra petram; inundatione autem facta, illisum est flumen domui illi et non potuit eam movere; bene enim aedificata erat.

49 Qui autem audivit et non fecit, similis est homini aedificanti domum suam supra terram sine fundamento; in quam illisus est fluvius, et continuo cecidit, et facta est ruina domus illius magna ”.

Luke Chapter 4:21-30

Chapter 4 continues. I did a bit of hanging you all from a cliff by breaking this passage where I did. Recall, Jesus has just read the passage from Isaiah talking about the blind seeing and the broken people being delivered. Having finished, and closed the book, when last we saw our hero, all eyes in the synagogue waiting…for something. My inference was that he was expected to comment on the text he has just read. Why this one would create an air of pregnant expectation the way it supposedly did is sort of left to our imagination. Remember that Isaiah did not have pride of place among the Jews that we Christians would like to suppose. And in addition, the section that Christians most often cite comes from Deutero-Isaiah, someone writing in the prophet’s name who wasn’t the prophet. In the same way Paul’s disciples wrote letters from Paul that the apostle did not write. I have even heard it suggested that there was a third author of Isaiah; I’m not sure I’d put a lot of faith in that one. The point is, for the Jews, Elijah is sort of the headliner of the prophets.  As such, I’m not sure why Jews would be stretched on tenter-hooks at the prospect of hearing Isaiah discussed. This is a great example of Christians reading stuff back into the HS that was not entirely (at all?) there.


21 ἤρξατο δὲ λέγειν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὅτι Σήμερον πεπλήρωται ἡ γραφὴ αὕτη ἐν τοῖς ὠσὶν ὑμῶν.

22 Καὶ πάντες ἐμαρτύρουν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐθαύμαζον ἐπὶ τοῖς λόγοις τῆς χάριτος τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔλεγον, Οὐχὶ υἱός ἐστιν Ἰωσὴφ οὗτος;

(21) He began to speak towards the that “This day this writing is fulfilled in the ears of you.” (22) And all witnessed him and were amazed upon his words of grace that issued from his mouth, and they said, “Is this not the son of Joseph?”

“The ears of you” is completely literal; “in your hearing” is probably a bit less jarring. And to be just as jarring, I left it as “words of grace”, since the standard translations is “gracious words”. But honestly, I’m trying to figure out how to render this in context. As the next part of the verse indicates, the people listening are a bit put off by what Jesus said. I don’t get the idea that they would consider the words “gracious” in any sense of the term. The outrage felt will become even more clear as the passage proceeds.

Remember that Jesus is in his hometown, and that Luke specifically names the town as Nazareth. So he names the father of Jesus to go with this. So what Luke has done here is combine Mark Chapter 6 and Matthew Chapter 11. Why? Let’s recall that Luke adds a lot of material to his gospel. So it’s possible he he felt he could not recount all that Matthew said and then add his own material and not have a text that runs to a hundred pages or more. So he chose to compress where and as he can. But note that the corresponding episode in Mark does not occur until Chapter 6. As such, he’s Luke is drastically rearranging the order of Mark. This is significant because one of the primary arguments for Q is the notion that Luke would not possibly have messed with Matthew’s “masterful” arrangement of the Q material. In fact, only a “fool or a madman” would do something so ludicrous. But nary a word that Luke felt free to rearrange Mark. Since Mark laid down the basic storyline, it would seem to be more of a problem that Luke felt free to copy and paste different episodes into different places; however, such appears not to be the case. So once again, the “argument” for Q turns out to be very situational: order of arrangement is hugely important, except when it’s not. Or, it’s important for some stuff, but not for other stuff. And these are the people who demand an editorially consistent explanation for every time Luke rearranges Matthew’s “masterful” order of the Q material.

One other thing that Luke does–or, actually, doesn’t do–here is to recite the names of Jesus’ siblings. Matthew truncated the list provided by Mark, but still gave us four of his brothers, most notably James. Here, Luke gives us none of them. The reason for this is likely to be the desire to let Jesus’ siblings–perhaps most notably James–fade into the background at this time. Many scholars have suggested that the list of siblings was embarrassing for the later Church with its insistence on the virgin birth. Mark had no such problem, since he did not tell us that Mary was a virgin who conceived by the sacred breath. Matthew apparently felt no constraint at what could be seen as a contradiction. Luke, in culmination, just eliminates the list completely. Also, by the time he wrote, James had been dead for several decades, his role in the early church becoming largely forgotten. So Luke perhaps judged it best to let sleeping dogs lie, and not awaken the memory. And let’s not forget that Luke may have been aware of Galatians, in which Paul meets with the brother of the lord. Maybe this suggested to Luke the wisdom of not reawakening that role of James and the conflict he had with Paul. After all, Luke very much downplayed this meeting when he recounted the event in Acts.

There is one aspect in which Luke provides a unique take on this. In Mark, Jesus was called “Mary’s son”; in Matthew, he was the “son of the carpenter, Mary’s son”. Here, he is the son of Joseph. This is especially notable, IMO, since in his genealogy he said that “it was supposed” that Jesus was the son of Joseph. Now I cannot stress enough the level of significance that attaches to Luke naming Joseph as Mary’s husband. This and the virgin birth, and the annunciation by an angel, etc. are all ways that Luke follows Matthew, and in material that no one says was in Q. It did not occur to me at the time, but Matthew’s “son of the carpenter” is sort of a step back from his own genealogy in which he states that Joseph begat Jesus. Honestly, it would be more appropriate for Luke to say that Jesus was the son of the carpenter and leave Joseph unnamed, since it was only “supposed” that Joseph was the father of Jesus.

The point of this, however is significant, and perhaps a crucial piece of the puzzle of Luke’s relation to Matthew. Was the relation only incidental, passing through Q? Or was it more than that, a relationship of direct affiliation? Here again, the contrast between Luke’s treatment and what came before him seems so disconnected that at least the suspicion of intent has to creep in here. Could he honestly have been so related to, and yet so distinct from the other evangelists that he did not plan this relationship of distinction very deliberately? And again, we have to look at this inside of, or as part of, the general trend. He’s done this before with the birth narrative. Echoing parts of Matthew without actually repeating Matthew. Draw your own conclusions, of course. My complaint is that these are aspects of the relationship between the two evangelists that are never discussed. Q is assumed, it’s stated, and it’s never really questioned. And the Q proponents have been so successful in establishing belief in Q that they have managed to force the anti-Q people to fight the battle on the Q people’s terms by insisting on an editorially consistent explanation for every time Luke differs from Matthew in the treatment of the alleged Q material. That is, they are rather forcing the Q opponents to prove that Q did not exist. That is truly masterful.

21 Coepit autem dicere ad illos: “ Hodie impleta est haec Scriptura in auribus vestris ”.

22 Et omnes testimonium illi dabant et mirabantur in verbis gratiae, quae procedebant de ore ipsius, et dicebant: “ Nonne hic filius est Ioseph? ”.

23 καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Πάντως ἐρεῖτέ μοι τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην: Ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόν: ὅσα ἠκούσαμεν γενόμενα εἰς τὴν Καφαρναοὺμ ποίησον καὶ ὧδε ἐν τῇ πατρίδι σου.

24 εἶπεν δέ, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς προφήτης δεκτός ἐστιν ἐν τῇ πατρίδι αὐτοῦ.

25 ἐπ’ ἀληθείας δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, πολλαὶ χῆραι ἦσαν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἠλίου ἐν τῷ Ἰσραήλ, ὅτε ἐκλείσθη ὁ οὐρανὸς ἐπὶ ἔτη τρία καὶ μῆνας ἕξ, ὡς ἐγένετο λιμὸς μέγας ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν,

26 καὶ πρὸς οὐδεμίαν αὐτῶν ἐπέμφθη Ἠλίας εἰ μὴ εἰς Σάρεπτα τῆς Σιδωνίας πρὸς γυναῖκα χήραν.

27 καὶ πολλοὶ λεπροὶ ἦσαν ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ ἐπὶ Ἐλισαίου τοῦ προφήτου, καὶ οὐδεὶς αὐτῶν ἐκαθαρίσθη εἰ μὴ Ναιμὰν ὁ Σύρος.

And he said towards them, “Surely you will say to me this parable, “Physician, heal thyself. How much we hear being to Caphernaum you have done, and this much in your home town. (What you have done in Caphernaum, also do here in your home town). (24)  “Amen I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own home town. (25) In truth I say to you, that many widows there were in the days of Elijah in Israel, when the sky was closed up for three years (“closed up” = “no rain“) and six months, so that there became a great famine in the whole land, (26) and towards no one was sent Elijah if not of the Sarepta of Sidon, to the widow woman. (27) And many lepers there were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and no one of them was cleansed if not Naiman the Syrian”.

First, let’s note that Luke is acknowledging the connexion of Jesus to Caphernaum. Mark simply says that Jesus and Peter, James, and John went to Capheranaum; Matthew explicitly says Jesus relocated there. If you’ll recall, when reading Mark I argued that Jesus was actually from Caphernaum and not from Nazareth. It is Matthew, with his quote that “He will be called a Nazarene” that identifies Nazareth as the the town where Jesus grew up. Then, to square with Mark, he has Jesus move to Caphernaum. Here, however, Luke seems to be correcting the compromise forged by Matthew which, in effect, gave Jesus two separate “home towns”, as it were. So here again, it is at least plausible that Luke is directing this at Matthew, without explicitly saying so. Because recall Luke’s statement that he verified the traditions in order to provide an accurate account, because many have undertaken to tell the tale. Now, it is not necessary to include Matthew in that “many”, but…really? And this certainly seems to be another of those situations that seem to indicate that Luke was certainly aware of Matthew, as in the case of “son of Joseph” above.

As for why the record needed to be corrected, Luke likely believed it was difficult to say that he was “Jesus of Nazareth” if he lived in Caphernaum. By the time Luke wrote, the “Jesus of Nazareth” had become lodged in the tradition, and he intended to cement it there. Recall: Mark mentioned Nazareth once, Matthew three times, and Paul, never. Matthew likely is the one who situated Jesus in Nazareth to begin with, but then he waffled by moving him to Caphernaum. Luke, OTOH, mentions Nazareth early and often, and with the aim of clarifying the situation once for all. So, yes, I’d say this indicates he was fully aware of Matthew.

As for the actual bulk of the passage, the meaning is probably clear enough. A prophet is not respected in his home town/land; but note that we are given examples of when the prophet chose to do good to someone aside from one of his fellow citizens. Rather than go to an Israelite widow, Elijah* goes to a widow in the territory of Sidon. Rather than cure an Israelite leper, Elisha* cures Naiman the Syrian. The beauty of this is that Luke does double duty with these examples. Not only does he show the prophet dishonored, but he shows how, even in the days of Elijah, non-Jews were shown the benefits of God. If it were true even back then, why not even more so at the time Luke wrote. Luke is supposed to be Gentile-friendly; I guess this would be an example.

* I have no idea what the historical orthodoxy on this is, but the Elijah/Elisha seems like such an obvious example of twinning that it should be simply accepted at this point. Of course, if you believe in the literal meaning of the Bible, this sort of confusion is impossible. But in the realm of historical research, such an identity of the two would at the very least be a point of discussion.

23 Et ait illis: “ Utique dicetis mihi hanc similitudinem: “Medice, cura teipsum; quanta audivimus facta in Capharnaum, fac et hic in patria tua” ”.

24 Ait autem: “ Amen dico vobis: Nemo propheta acceptus est in patria sua.

25 In veritate autem dico vobis: Multae viduae erant in diebus Eliae in Israel, quando clausum est caelum annis tribus et mensibus sex, cum facta est fames magna in omni terra;

26 et ad nullam illarum missus est Elias nisi in Sarepta Sidoniae ad mulierem viduam.

27 Et multi leprosi erant in Israel sub Eliseo propheta; et nemo eorum mundatus est nisi Naaman Syrus ”.

28 καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες θυμοῦ ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ ἀκούοντες ταῦτα,

29 καὶ ἀναστάντες ἐξέβαλον αὐτὸν ἔξω τῆς πόλεως, καὶ ἤγαγον αὐτὸν ἕως ὀφρύος τοῦ ὄρους ἐφ’ οὗ ἡ πόλις ᾠκοδόμητο αὐτῶν, ὥστε κατακρημνίσαι αὐτόν:

30 αὐτὸς δὲ διελθὼν διὰ μέσου αὐτῶν ἐπορεύετο.

And all were filled with the breath of life/anger in the synagogue hearing these things, and standing up they threw him from the town, and led him to the edge of the hill (cliff) on which the city of them was built, so that to throw him down.  (30) But he going through the middle of them went away.

The word << θυμος >> (“thumos”) presents an interesting lesson in the difference between pagan Greek and so-called “NT Greek”. In the Great Scott, the Middle Liddell, and one of my NT Greek lexica, following their lead give the primary definition of this word as “breath of life”, or something such. The definition of “anger” does not show up until definition #4 in part B. This latter derives from “thumos” as the “seat of the emotions”, which is another usage of the term in Classical and Homeric Greek. Two other NT lexica give “anger” as the primary definition. Now, this is not a case of the word starting off being used for one thing and then gradually coming to mean something else, the way “entrepreneur” started off as “undertaker” and now means something rather different. Rather, “thumos” is used both as “breath of life” and as “anger” in The Iliad. Rather, it’s a case where NT authors use it (apparently) in the latter sense, so that is the only sense in which the NT lexica translate the word. Now, in one sense, this is fine; presumably one is consulting an NT lexicon because one is reading the NT. In this way the translator gets the way the word is used in the limited number of passages where it occurs: Luke/Acts, Paul, and Revelations. The problem is that the translator does not get the full range of the word; that has been done for the reader by previous generations of NT scholars who have come to agree on what the word means. This is how “baptize” has come to have one specific meaning. And there have been a few places in which I have not agreed with the “consensus” translation. Unfortunately, I can no longer recall any of these passages, but I do know I coined the term “consensus translation” already when we were reading 1 Thessalonians and Galatians. For the record, the context of this passage pretty clearly indicates that “anger” is the proper way to render the word, but I dislike–very much–the way it’s handled by NT lexica. There is no such thing as NT Greek.

As for the meaning of the passage, Luke here exaggerates the reaction Jesus got in some of the other stories of the other evangelists. Jesus caused consternation, and even outrage, but never (?) this degree of anger. They want to throw him from the cliff! IIRC, James the Just was executed in this manner in Jerusalem. I’m not saying Luke was aware of this and repeated the tradition. I’ve been told by priests for years now that this was a fairly common manner of execution; I suppose that Josephus could be regarded as having verified this fact.

The first really interesting aspect is the implication that “the Jews” wanted to kill him this early in his career, right from the outset. The other side of that is that the would-be executioners were not the powers-that-be, they were not the Temple officials or even the Pharisees or Scribes; they  were simply those present in the synagogue that day. If this story is conceived of as having happened on Sabbath, we would imagine that most of the men in the town would have been there. But it was the townspeople, those that had watched Jesus grow up now decided that what he had said was so heinous that he deserved to die. Wow. That is one tough crowd. Of course, it’s all academic since the event never occurred; the issue is rather what Luke was trying to convey through the episode. I suppose this would be to demonstrate that Jesus was upsetting people directly at the start. That’s obvious; the question is why Luke wanted to get across this anger at Jesus so soon? To justify the crucifixion, I suppose. Which leads us to ask whether we think 2M were insufficiently clear about this? And this leads to the question of how much difference there was between the first two evangelists; was one, or both of them insufficiently convincing? Then, of course, we have to ask if we can tell whether Luke knew about Matthew’s case for the crucifixion. This extremity of this episode may make more sense if Luke had not been aware of Matthew’s case.

Having checked, 2M approach this issue in similar ways. The animosity towards Jesus starts as muttering and grumbling from onlookers, usually because Jesus has transgressed some standard practice of Judaism. Here, there is no warm-up or warning: just straight to homicidal rage. Luke was obviously trying to make a point, but, what, exactly? 

The last thing is that I wonder if they could they kill him like that. Was it legal? So much is made in the Passion story about how the Jews have to beg the Romans to kill Jesus because they don’t have the authority. But then again, they executed James the Just–assuming that we can accept the testimony of Josephus as we have it, that this episode was not the interpolation of a later Christian copyist. And also, this was occurring in a provincial town out in the boondocks where there was no Roman presence to speak of. So, if it happened, who was going to complain? It’s not like the Romans were even going to notice.

The final last point is Verse 30: and passing through the midst of them he left. What Luke is describing is a supernatural event. It’s similar to the way he passed through solid walls and locked doors after the Resurrection in John’s telling of that sequence of events. Like the verse before it, one has to wonder what Luke’s point of this was. Presumably, he’s providing evidence that Jesus was a divine being, but to a level of divinity that is unprecedented. In the other gospels Jesus performs miracles and walks on water, but there is nothing like this. In fact, this could easily be read as borderline Docetism: that Jesus did not actually have a corporeal body. This, of course, is dualist theology of the sort that many sects would espouse. Many–but not all–Gnostics were also dualists, but there is no necessary connexion between the two. Most dualists were not Gnostics. The Cathars of the 13th Century were the last great dualist sect; the belief sort of died away after they were exterminated by Innocent III and the king of France.

I suppose the lesson to be drawn from these two verses is that Luke wants us to know, right up front, that Jesus was on the wrong side of Jewish public opinion and that he was truly divine, almost to the point of being non-corporeal. Or, at least, he was capable of becoming non-corporeal when the situation called for it. 

28 Et repleti sunt omnes in synagoga ira haec audientes;

29 et surrexerunt et eiecerunt illum extra civitatem et duxerunt illum usque ad supercilium montis, supra quem civitas illorum erat aedificata, ut praecipitarent eum.

30 Ipse autem transiens per medium illorum ibat.

Summary: The Context of Matthew-1

Here’s what I think, where I think Matthew fits in. The early period of development saw a mosaic of different communities. Some of them were organic: they grew up in Jerusalem and Galilee, in places where people had been touched directly by Jesus. The community in Galilee owed a lot to the organization and patronage of Mary the Magdalene. She knew Jesus when the latter was alive, and probably provided some financial support for him and his small crew that included Peter, probably the sons of Zebedee, and maybe James, brother of Jesus. I’ve toyed with the idea that perhaps the Magdalene was married to James, brother of Jesus, but I think that’s unlikely given the way the paths diverged after Jesus’ death. The Magdalene probably followed Jesus into Jerusalem and was there, in some capacity, when Jesus was executed. At which point she returned to Galilee with a significant number of Jesus’ followers. This community was likely responsible for the creation of the Passion Narrative. Perhaps this did not come about immediately, but the tales of being in Jerusalem during the last days of Jesus’ life were told by the group in Galilee, and eventually grew into a story that reached Mark, who probably re-worked it to fit the pro-Roman sympathies of the day. The Galilean community were responsible for the part of the Passion/Resurrection Narrative present in Mark and Matthew that included instructions that the survivors were to return to Galilee. This group did not see Jesus as a divine individual, but he was revered as a wonder-worker who had performed miracles, which was seen as demonstrating Jesus had God’s favour.

Another group grew up in Jerusalem. This, of course, was the community led by James the Just and Peter. If the sons of Zebedee were indeed followers of Jesus, they went back to Galilee with Mary, for they are not part of the landscape for Paul. It’s possible that they did not exist, but their roles are so prominent that I’m loathe to consign them to the dustbin of fiction. But note how they disappear from the scene during the Passion and Resurrection. If these two narratives are the creation of the Galilean community, then chances are that these two were not part of this community. So if they were not part of neither the Galilean nor Jerusalem communities, then where did they fit? Most likely they were part of the community that produced Mark; he features them prominently, and he treats them much better than he treats Peter; so I would suggest that they played an integral part in the foundation of the community to which Mark would subsequently belong, so Mark wrote them into the role of being founding members of Jesus’ inner circle. Note that they do not–most likely, cannot–supplant Peter for pride of place. Peter’s role is apparently too well established to be left out, or even just ignored; he can, however, be slighted, disparaged, and superseded to some degree.

The elevation of Peter comes at the expense of James the Just. Based on Paul’s testimony, I do not think it can be productively argued, or even asserted, that James was not the leader of the Jerusalem Assembly. “The James Gang” as I rather facetiously nicknamed them back when we were reading Galatians. The thing is, Paul’s account is just sufficiently jaundiced to make it highly unlikely that he was making it up. Paul did not particularly like James, and Paul didn’t have a terribly high opinion of Peter, based on the latter’s unwillingness to stand up to James. That James stayed in Jerusalem is one reason I discarded the notion that perhaps it was James who was married to the Magdalene. It’s not impossible that they were married, but parted company, but I would think that such a relationship would have shown up in the Passion Narrative that Mary most likely helped create. At the very least, she prepared the ground for it by telling–and doubtless re-telling–the story of Jesus’ last days. Mark disparages Peter, but he completely omits James the Just, and yet the latter’s reputation persisted to become incorporated into the Gospel of Thomas. Of course, this reputation only “persisted” if the Gospel of Thomas was written later, rather than earlier; but I believe it to date to the second, if not third quarter of the Second Century, based on content and form and other internal evidence.

This puts Mark and James on separate tracks. It has often been pointed out that Mark’s knowledge of the geography of Judea and Galilee & environs is perhaps sketchy at best. I am not qualified to confirm or deny this; I will operate on the belief that there are legitimate reasons for saying this and take the position that the assessment is accurate, largely because I’ve never encountered an argument denying this position. The implication, therefore, is that Mark was most likely separated physically from Jerusalem, and so may not have been aware of the tradition of James. One of the more salient implications of this lack of awareness is that Mark was probably also unaware of Paul. Wherever Mark was–and Rome is not impossible, which some traditions suggest–Paul was not there, and his presence was not known to whatever community it was to which Mark belonged. It was a community that probably owed its origin to the sons of Zebede, who are not mentioned by Paul. In which case, we have to ask–and question–whether these sons were real, or if they were actually close followers of Jesus. It is doubtful that they were disciples ab origine, as Mark and Matthew say, or whether they were participants to any of the great events of Jesus’ career, such as the Transfiguration and the events in Gethsemane. Of course, we have to ask if any of those events actually took place; if we conclude that they didn’t, then of course they did not participate. And Matthew most likely just followed Mark on much of this because he had no reason not to follow Mark.

That takes us back to something said in the commentary to the text. The writing of a gospel by Mark was probably a watershed event for the development of the proto-church for many different reasons. First and maybe foremost–to put this in crass commercial terms of the 21st Century–it was probably a killer app as a marketing tool. Suddenly, you had a complete story of your founder, and you had a consistent story. The fragmentation would slow down considerably; thinking in terms of a river, it’s like being able to keep the main channel strong, thereby preventing the branching into a thousand streams of a delta. This way, someone hearing the story in one town would not go to another and hear a different story. The effect of this would be that the two stories would reinforce each other. Conflicting versions would be reduced, which means that someone new to the story would not find the different versions confusing, leading the potential convert to conclude that the believers simply didn’t know what they were talking about, leading her to return to the worship of Isis. Tied to this, a written story is very portable and so exportable. Yes, manuscripts were time-consuming to produce, but the fact of the matter is that Mark isn’t that long, so it could be copied and then read to many, many new people.

This, in my opinion, is why the gospels took precedence over Paul’s letters. These latter were not really intended for general circulation; they were written to specific groups to address specific circumstances. Mark’s gospel, OTOH, was general and universal. It set the tone and the outlines, digging the primary channel in which the main stream of the river would flow from that point forward. At root, the Jesus of Mark was the wonder-worker who told parables about the kingdom. The latter was neither fully nor effectively explained. Maybe this was to de-emphasize Jesus’ connexion to the Baptist; or maybe it was designed to prove Jesus’ connexion to the Baptist. In this latter case, perhaps Mark, writing from a physical as well as temporal distance, did not really understand what the Baptist had actually meant by the kingdom, thereby causing Mark to leave this part of Jesus teaching rather vague and undeveloped.

With all this, Mark was not a complete story. Far from it. Many details were missing. Being aware of this, Matthew set out to correct these deficiencies. First thing was to give Jesus a father, thereby to reduce the charges that Jesus was a bastard. Mark does not know–indeed, he does not care–who Jesus’ human father was. For Mark, Jesus was a man whom God chose at the moment when he was baptised by John. Then, and only then, he became “my son”, as God declared from the heavens. To compound the problem, Mark later calls Jesus the son of Mary (Ch 6). So Matthew has to set the record straight. So he provides Jesus with an earthly father, but goes further to provide Jesus with that most important of documents of legitimacy: a pedigree. Not only was Jesus given an earthly father, he was given a royal lineage. This provided an enormous boost to Jesus’ credibility. Jesus was not some nobody; he was the descendent of the Judahite king David (who had pretensions, however illegitimate, to the throne of Israel). This was a brilliant stroke, because it gave legitimacy to Jesus’ heritage, but also to the claim of being the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah. This aspect of Jesus’ identity had become grafted, however imperfectly and incompletely, onto Mark’s story. This was not nearly enough for Matthew.

Aside from making it clear that Jesus was not a bastard, Matthew decided to take this all to a truly cosmic level, to demonstrate that Jesus’ birth was an event of universal significance. We are so inured to the story of the Star of Bethlehem* that I am not sure that we don’t quite grasp the enormity of this concept. Jesus was so important that the stars themselves aligned to announce his birth. That is to say, that his birth was destined from the beginning of time, so that it was written into the course of the heavens. Now, as the descendants and intellectual heirs of a millennium of absolutist philosophical thinking, we are sort of accustomed to this sort of thing, and we don’t get what it all means. To anyone of Matthew’s day, none of this would have been lost. The idea that Jesus had a star, and that it was read and understood by magoi from further east. Just so we’re clear, a magos–plural magoi, in Latin magi–was, at root, an astrologer. They were “wise” because they could read the secret language of the stars. The point to take from the episode of the Magi is that this was written before the idea of God that we take for granted did not permeate the popular conception of God to the degree it does today. God’s response to Job was, “where were you when I laid the foundations of the universe?”; Paul tells us he was selected from the time he was in his mother’s womb, and talks about God laying the foundations of the cosmos, but there is not the sense of God setting out the course of things from The Beginning. This is not a Jewish conception, nor does it fit with the attitude of Free Will that took root in the thinking of the Patristic thinkers. No, what Matthew is describing is, at root, pagan Fatalism. Just as the course of the planets is fixed, so the course of history is fixed. We are allotted our role, our fate is determined, and we play out the string fundamentally unable to do anything about it.

Looking back on this now I see this is as a very big clue about Matthew’s origins. After checking to see what I said at the time, I hadn’t picked up on it then because I had not begun to piece together the bits of evidence that Matthew began life as a pagan, rather than as a Jew. After all, everyone agrees that Matthew is the most Jewish of the evangelists, and it’s widely assumed that Luke was the only pagan among the evangelists. It’s taken on faith. But having picked up on a number of other clues, the whole theme of the Star of Bethlehem is like a big, blinking neon sign that says “PAGAN !!! “. The Jews were anti-astrology, and this attitude carried over to the early Church. Astrology, and its concomitant concept of ineluctable Fate was disparaged by both Jews and strict Christians as pagan, and the latter saw it as inexorably opposed to, and completely incompatible to the idea of Free Will. So the idea of an astrological event announcing the birth of the Christian Saviour is ironic in the extreme. It’s ironic to the point of contradictory. It’s contradictory to the point that it almost seems to be the final piece of evidence necessary to prove definitively that Matthew was not raised as a Jew. Of course, most biblical scholars and clergy will doubtless disagree with me, and vehemently, and vigourously deny that Matthew was a pagan, and vociferously assert that this motif of the Star and the astrologers even suggests such a ridiculous idea, let alone proving it.

A bit of research has turned up various thoughts and interpretations of the star and of the “wise men”. Overall, there is a concerted effort to play down the role of the magoi/magi as astrologers. One recent commentator even puts the word “astrologers” in quotes, as if to sniff away the idea as preposterous. Of course, there are all of the attempts to explain this as a comet, or a supernova, or some such occurrence based on the science of astronomy. Of course, these attempts miss the point, and really need not concern us; at the moment, we are concerned with how the star is explained by biblical scholars, not astronomers. The former want to play down the role of astrology because, even today, good Christians are at least uncomfortable with, if not overtly hostile to, the notion of astrology. But the point remains that this is the base meaning of magos/magus. Like the Nile, the rivers of Mesopotamia flood each year, and being able to predict the timing of the flood was very important for agriculture. The floods are seasonal, and the seasons are related to the movement of the earth around the sun. So the sky provided a very reliable calendar, if one knew how to read it. Here is the birth of both what we call astronomy and astrology; the thinking was that if the sun and stars all determined when the rivers would flood, then of course they have significant influence over mere humans, too. So it’s very important to realize that there was no difference between the two until the later 1500. Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and other founders of astronomy were really doing what we would call astronomy. Kepler was trying to figure out the length of time the various planets “stayed” in a given constellation of the Zodiac when he discovered his Laws of Planetary Motion. 

So, all in all, the use of the Star is, I think, a fairly strong indication that Matthew was a pagan.

to be continued…

* By happenstance or coincidence or divine intervention, I’ve been writing about the Star of Bethlehem on the 24th and 25th of December. Of course, we got Luke and the shepherd who were “sore afraid” (at least in the KJV) rather than Matthew for the gospel.

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,

Matthew Chapter 28:11-20

This section concludes the chapter and the entire Gospel of Matthew. It’s been a very long, but not too strange, trip.

11 Πορευομένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἰδού τινες τῆς κουστωδίας ἐλθόντες εἰς τὴν πόλιν ἀπήγγειλαν τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν ἅπαντα τὰ γενόμενα.

12 καὶ συναχθέντες μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων συμβούλιόν τε λαβόντες ἀργύρια ἱκανὰ ἔδωκαν τοῖς στρατιώταις

13 λέγοντες, Εἴπατε ὅτι Οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ νυκτὸς ἐλθόντες ἔκλεψαν αὐτὸν ἡμῶν κοιμωμένων.

14 καὶ ἐὰν ἀκουσθῇ τοῦτο ἐπὶ τοῦ ἡγεμόνος, ἡμεῖς πείσομεν [αὐτὸν] καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀμερίμνους ποιήσομεν.

15 οἱ δὲ λαβόντες τὰ ἀργύρια ἐποίησαν ὡς ἐδιδάχθησαν. Καὶ διεφημίσθη ὁ λόγος οὗτος παρὰ Ἰουδαίοις μέχρι τῆς σήμερον [ἡμέρας].

Going toward away, look! some of the guards coming to the city they announced to the high priests all the occurrences. (12) And gathering with the high priests they took counsel taking money because they gave to the soldiers, (13) saying, “Say that his disciples coming in the night stole him we being sleeping. (14) And if this was heard by the leader, we persuade him and we make you careful.”  (15) They taking the money they did as they were taught. And this story was blazed out throughout Judea until this very day.

The translation is way too literal. The upshot is that the high priests paid the guards to tell a false story. The interesting part is that, supposedly, the story was being told even to the time that Matthew wrote. Really? I’m not sure whether to pooh-pooh the idea that they were still talking about it, or to take it as “hmmm…” moment. Having just said what I said about Matthew not being likely to have new, actual historical information, I would have nerve saying that this was true. And, indeed, my initial reaction is that this is something that Matthew sort of made up. But then, why? Why would he make this up? Seems a tad improbable, but, seriously, why make this up? Why suggest that there is an alternative story out there? Doesn’t the probability lean to the side of Matthew saying this as a way of explaining, and hopefully refuting something that was out there? To refute something that people were actually saying?

Thinking about this further now that it’s had time to settle in, this little throw-away line may have huge ramifications for a lot of things. Let’s unpack this a bit. Mark gave no indication of a story like this, but then Mark didn’t really have a resurrection story. What this suggests is that the whole idea of the resurrection, and the story explaining it, only fully came into existence Mark, and before Matthew. This set of circumstances would make sense when taken in conjunction with my previous point about the writing of Mark being something of a watershed in the development of the Jesus movement. Having a written gospel spread the word more effectively, but perhaps it also caused people to ask questions, like, why was the tomb empty? What did happen to Jesus’ body? Which would lead others, less sympathetic to the cause, to suggest that the body had been stolen by his disciples. Refuting this, in turn, could have been one of the spurs that prompted Matthew to write his gospel in the first place.

Of course, so far we’ve ignored an obvious point: that Paul was talking about the resurrection long before Mark wrote his gospel. Not only is that a valid point, but it’s salient as well (a salient point is redundant). If I’m going to suggest that the resurrection story didn’t come about until after Mark, what about Paul’s preaching on this subject? I’d best have one damn good explanation for that.

This make take us back to the question of whether Mark was aware of Paul. To be honest, I am not aware of the scholarship on this, but it is entirely possible that Mark was not. If not, he could have written his gospel without knowing that Paul claimed Jesus had been raised from the dead. But then, to whom did Paul preach? To pagans. Matthew, as I see it, was a pagan and not a Jew. So did he become aware of Paul’s teaching about the resurrection from contact with a pagan church that had been influenced, if not founded, by Paul’s mission work? What I am proposing is that there were two separate traditions; indeed, there were likely, but I’m thinking of two main branches here, with however many tributaries and however fragmented the delta was. I’m suggesting that there was a Jewish tradition and a pagan tradition. Indeed, this may be a commonplace; Paul tells us that exactly this situation existed in Galatians, so it’s hardly like this is a radical suggestion. He and James were at loggerheads about the Jewish question, but what if there were other, more fundamental differences of opinion between the two? What if the Jewish tradition wasn’t big on the idea of the raising from the dead? Or, Paul was a Pharisee, who believed in this before encountering the teachings about Jesus; was James a Pharisee? Is that part of the reason the Pharisees get such special treatment in the gospels? Because the Jewish tradition didn’t agree with the Pharisees? But then Matthew, not being a Jew, really didn’t get the whole reason for the division, so he just kept up the disparagement of the Pharisees without realizing the implications?

There are a lot of pieces that seem to fit. The problem is, each piece makes the overall whole less likely, not more so. The more complicated the story, the less likely it is to be true. This would seem to be counterintuitive, but if you think in terms of contingent probabilities–C is only true if B is true, and B is only true if A is true–you may see the problem. Each piece depends on another, and each connexion represents a potential fracture point, a place where the joint is weak and the glue holding it all together can come unstuck.

11 Quae cum abiissent, ecce quidam de custodia venerunt in civitatem et nuntiaverunt principibus sacerdotum omnia, quae facta fuerant.

12 Et congregati cum senioribus, consilio accepto, pecuniam copiosam dederunt militibus

13 dicentes: “Dicite: “Discipuli eius nocte venerunt et furati sunt eum, nobis dormientibus”.

14 Et si hoc auditum fuerit a praeside, nos suadebimus ei et securos vos faciemus”.

15 At illi, accepta pecunia, fecerunt, sicut erant docti. Et divulgatum est verbum istud apud Iudaeos usque in hodiernum diem.

16 Οἱ δὲ ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ ἐπορεύθησαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος οὗ ἐτάξατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς,

17 καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν προσεκύνησαν, οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν.

18 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [τῆς] γῆς.

19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος,

20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.

But the eleven disciples went out to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus arranged for them, (17) and seeing they worshipped him but they doubted. (18) And coming forward Jesus spoke to them saying, “It was given to me all power in the sky and upon the earth. (19) So going going out all the peoples were learned, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the sacred breath. (20) Teaching them to watch all so much I command you. And, look! I with you I am all days until the end of the aeons”.  

So that’s it. It occurs to me that until now I’m not terribly familiar with this gospel, or at least this version of the resurrection story. To whit, they actually do go to Galilee, something of which I had not been aware, largely because this version of the Resurrection is not read all that often. One salient feature is that this whole going to Galilee was rather an ephemeral phenomenon. After Matthew, it vanishes from sight. Of the four stories, I believe that this one gets the least attention. Mark is the first, Luke is the most well-known for the same reasons we think of his nativity story in preference to Matthew’s story, which is the only alternative version.

So what happened? Not only did the idea of going to Galilee sort of fade, it faded to the point that a lot of people are not really aware of it; or is it just me? One obvious answer to that questions is that the focus of the growing movement shifted away from Galilee and towards Jerusalem. Mark had the  bit about Galilee, and Matthew followed him on that. But note that it’s like Matthew wasn’t really sure what happened in Galilee. We get Jesus sending out his disciples, so this passage has been called the Great Commission, but if it’s so great, why did Luke forget about it? Luke probably didn’t. Rather more likely is that the tradition of the church had turned towards Jerusalem, so Luke corrected Matthew to reflect this. Remember that Luke is the first evangelist who was undeniably aware of Paul; before Luke, we can’t be sure. And Paul tells us that the focus of the Jesus community after Jesus’ death was in Jerusalem, and not in Galilee; is that why Luke moved the action there? Remember, too, that Luke is the first–and only–writer to tell the stories of both the Ascension and Pentecost, the latter of which took place in Jerusalem. Then John splits the difference, and has part of Jesus’ post-resurrection career occur in Jerusalem, but then it moves back to Galilee. So there was, apparently, a pretty strong tradition tying the post-resurrection Jesus back to Galilee.

Why? Because it makes sense that people from Galilee would return there after the trauma of the loss of Jesus. But even more convincing, I think, are all the boring, mundane reasons: that’s where there homes and family and source of livelihood were. Jerusalem was a big city, and cities then, as now, are expensive. So sure, they returned to Galilee. Now here’s a thought: we’ve noted that the Magdalene appears during the Passion Story, and plays a prominent part in the Resurrection story. Perhaps this is because she provided sponsorship of the disciples–in Galilee. She would not be the first patron(ess) to get herself written into the story due to reasons of financial support. Perhaps her role did not come into prominence until after Jesus’ death. That would very nicely explain why she shows up in the narrative in the events surrounding Jesus’ death. It would also be a strong prima facie case to suggest that the Passion Narrative may have originated in the Galilean community. That is a thought that needs further consideration.

So that’s a bit of an eye-opener, I must say. And shame on me for not realizing this sooner than now. But then, this was intended as a voyage of discovery.

As for the Great Commission, the very last words of the gospel, there are a couple of points to be made. The first, of course, is that the event is a post-facto fiction, meant to explain from a point forty years after what happened in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ death. It’s a foundation myth. The interesting inference that we, perhaps, can draw from this is that it suggests leadership of the community became situated in Galilee, when we know differently from Paul. What this implies, I believe, is that there was a period stretching most likely from the Destruction to the time of Luke, a period that includes Matthew, when the leadership of James, centered in Jerusalem, was either being suppressed or had largely been forgotten. Now, given Matthew’s desire to play up Jesus’ divinity, and the way he inversely downplayed the brothers of Jesus related in Mark, it’s not difficult to imagine that he may have known about the Jerusalem Community, at least to the point of being vaguely aware that it had existed; such minimal awareness, however, would have led to Matthew’s lack of value for James and his group almost as effectively as not knowing about it altogether, So I suspect Matthew did have some minimal knowledge about James, but not nearly enough for Matthew to value the role of James.

Perhaps the final point about the Great Commission is its emphasis on teaching the peoples, the non-Jews. I won’t use the term “gentile” because it does appear in either the Greek or the Latin; I’m not sure of the etymology–but I suspect it derives from the Latin gens, gentis, “peoples”, which is used in the Latin translation below. This is yet another indicator that this part of the story was created very much later than the life of Jesus, and probably even later than Mark. The first evangelist does have a few references to Jesus’ preaching to non-Jews; there is the Syro-Phoenician woman outside Tyre, for example, but the message has become much more prominent in Matthew. Think of the story of the centurion who does not believe himself worthy for Jesus to enter his home. References to non-Jews and their role in the kingdom (The Wedding Banquet; the invited guests won’t come) come early and often in Matthew. This Great Commission is the finishing touch, the pìece de résistance for this transfer of the center of gravity from Jews to pagans. Jesus himself ordained it so.

That’s it. It feels like there should be some grand words of conclusion here, but those will be saved for the summary. Thank you for your patience.

16 Undecim autem discipuli abierunt in Galilaeam, in montem ubi constituerat illis Iesus,

17 et videntes eum adoraverunt; quidam autem dubitaverunt.

18 Et accedens Iesus locutus est eis dicens: “Data est mihi omnis potestas in caelo et in terra.

19 Euntes ergo docete omnes gentes, baptizantes eos in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti,

20 docentes eos servare omnia, quaecumque mandavi vobis. Et ecce ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem saeculi”.

Matthew Chapter 28:1-10

We have come to the final chapter of Matthew. It’s short, it deals with the Resurrection. Coming into it, I suspect that the main points of discussion will be the changes from Mark.

1Ὀψὲ δὲ σαββάτων, τῇ ἐπιφωσκούσῃ εἰς μίαν σαββάτων, ἦλθεν Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία θεωρῆσαι τὸν τάφον.

After the Sabbath, at daybreak of the first of the week, came Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary to see the tomb. 

We need to stop at this moment to consider what I believe is a very significant aspect of the text. The fifth word of the sentence, <<ἐπιφωσκούσῃ>>, is a very, very rare word. In fact, in all of NT Greek, and, in fact, in ALL of Greek literature, this word occurs exactly twice. The first time is here. The second time is in Luke 23, which also deals with the death and burial of Jesus. Twice. That’s it. And people are trying to argue that Luke was not aware of Matthew? Where else did he come up with this very, extremely rare word? In fact, had Luke not used it, the usage here would have been unique in the totality of ancient Greek literature. (Can I coin the term “duoesque? No, it doesn’t really work, does it?) That Luke also used the word in approximately the same context cannot be a coincidence, can it? And this is why I’m so incredulous about people not accepting that Luke knew and used Matthew. Not only do stories overlap, but they very frequently repeat the same vocabulary. The best example is the temptation of Jesus. Yes, yes, they both use the vocabulary they both found in Q. But that means that the temptation story was present in a work that only included sayings of Jesus; and there is no way, no how, to stretch Q to include the Passion Narrative. Adding these two stories to Q is basically to stretch the concept of what Q is supposed to be, and turn it into a full-fledged gospel, which is absolutely not the point of Q at all. So it’s like I said, the point of Q, the reason it was created by scholars and is held so tenaciously is that, without it, we have absolutely nothing written about Jesus’ earthly ministry before Mark, a full thirty years later. And we lose the Good Shepherd (more on that in Luke) and the Sermon on the Mount. I can’t help that.

Just one more word on “the other Mary”. We are told she was the mother of James and Joseph. In Mark 6, we are told Jesus has brothers named James and Joses, among others. Who are these two men? Are they Matthew’s equivalent of Alexander and Rufus, members, or forebears of members of Matthew’s community? Is this James the Lesser? Because, at the crucifixion we were told that these two Marys were accompanied by the mother of the sons of Zebedee; as such, James the brother of Joses does not refer to James, the brother of John, the sons of thunder as well as Zebedee. So at the cross we had the mothers of both of the guys named James, but not the mother of Jesus. So who is this “other” Mary? And who are her sons? And why are they mentioned here? My inclination is to take them as members, or forebears of members of Matthew’s community.

1 Sero autem post sabbatum, cum illucesceret in primam sabbati, venit Maria Magdalene et altera Maria videre sepulcrum.

καὶ ἰδοὺ σεισμὸς ἐγένετο μέγας: ἄγγελος γὰρ κυρίου καταβὰς ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καὶ προσελθὼν ἀπεκύλισεν τὸν λίθον καὶ ἐκάθητο ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ.

ἦνδὲ ἡ εἰδέα αὐτοῦ ὡς ἀστραπὴ καὶ τὸ ἔνδυμα αὐτοῦ λευκὸν ὡς χιών.

ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ φόβου αὐτοῦ ἐσείσθησαν οἱ τηροῦντες καὶ ἐγενήθησανὡς νεκροί.

And behold! There was a great earthquake! For an angel of the lord came down from the sky and coming towards rolled back the stone and sat himself upon it. (3) Indeed, the face of him (was) as lightening, and his garment white as snow. (4) From the fear of him, they shook those guarding and they became as the dead.

This is really interesting. Notice how we jump from the perspective of the women, to that of something like an omniscient narrator who can see all that is happening. This narrator saw the angel come down and roll away the stone, and the narrator saw the reaction of the guards. Remember, in Mark, what we really get is just the women finding the stone rolled away and an empty tomb; or a tomb empty of Jesus, where sits–on the right-hand side, we are told–a young–it is specified–man dressed in white. He was not called an angel. That, apparently, was not sufficient for Matthew, who needed more drama and supernatural occurrences. Recall the holy ones coming out of their tombs when Jesus died. As for the earthquake, the eastern Mediterranean area is prone to earthquakes, although the trouble spot is usually a bit further north, in Turkey. And we had one, again, when Jesus died. This one on Sunday morning could be an aftershock. Or it could be fictitious, the more likely explanation.

I’m trying to remember my HS stories. I know God stopped the sun in the sky so the Israelites could slaughter more of their enemies, and God rained down fire & brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah and did the whole Ten Plagues thing. I bring this up to compare divine manifestations in the HS with this episode, and then ask if this sort of thing seems more Jewish or pagan. Then the follow-up question is whether there’s a difference. My background, default setting is pagan, because that’s what I’ve studied, so this feels pagan, but I’m not sure there is a real difference. If pushed, I’d say this sounded more Greek than Hebrew myth, but there were Syrian myths, and Lydian and Carian myths, and…& c. So in the final analysis, this is about Matthew inserting the divine into the situation. We are reminded of Jesus’ divinity, just in case we’d forgotten.

This just in. One very familiar part of pagan thought were the divine portents that accompanied the death of Julius and then Augustus Caesar. One that I recall off the top of my head is the eagle seen flying out of the funeral pyre of Julius Caesar. I had thought this was in Suetonius, but it appears I’m mistaken. So while some of the events may have Hebrew origins, perhaps the portents that occurred in conjunction with Jesus death, and his raising do have a pagan feel about them.

2 Et ecce terrae motus factus est magnus: angelus enim Domini descendit de caelo et accedens revolvit lapidem et sedebat super eum.

3 Erat autem aspectus eius sicut fulgur, et vestimentum eius candidum sicut nix.

4 Prae timore autem eius exterriti sunt custodes et facti sunt velut mortui.

ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν ταῖς γυναιξίν, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε ὑμεῖς, οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι Ἰησοῦν τὸν ἐσταυρωμένον ζητεῖτε:

οὐκ ἔστιν ὧδε, ἠγέρθη γὰρ καθὼς εἶπεν: δεῦτε ἴδετε τὸν τόπον ὅπου ἔκειτο.

καὶ ταχὺ πορευθεῖσαι εἴπατε τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ὅτι Ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ἰδοὺ προάγει ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, ἐκεῖ αὐτὸν ὄψεσθε: ἰδοὺ εἶπον ὑμῖν.

Answering the herald said to the women, “Do not fear, know that Jesus the one crucified lives. (6) He is not here, he was raised as he said. Come here! you see the place where he lay. (7) And quickly going forth, tell his disciples that ‘I have been raised from the dead’, and look! you go forward to Galilee, where you will see him. Look! I said this to you”.

So we get a great example here of how the story has grown in the time between Mark and Matthew. In the former, yes, Jesus was raised from the dead, but there are no other supernatural events in conjunction with the event. And the man in the tomb was a man. Here, we get much more, complete and replete with earthquakes and an angel*.

I believe it was Ehrman (it might have been Mack?) who suggested that the young man in white presented by Mark was actually one of the junior members of the high priests. They wore garments whitened to an intense degree. He also suggests that the high priests removed his body, and planted the young man to tell the disciples to get out of Dodge and hie themselves back to Galilee. They had two purposes in doing this: the first, to prevent his tomb from becoming a rallying point; the second to get the disciples out of town and back to Galilee where they became Herod’s problem. This has actually struck me as a very good explanation for the events in Mark. Because, there is nothing in any of the other gospels about Jesus being in Galilee port-mortem. And yet, these are the instructions supposedly given to the women to convey to the disciples: get thee to Galilee. That really does seem a bit odd. I suspect the intent was to explain the lack of presence of Jesus’ followers in Judea and Jerusalem. Or something along those lines. Because, as we shall see (Spoiler Alert!) Jesus appears to the disciples in and around Jerusalem. There is no further mention of Galilee. [Update: appears I may be wrong about this…]

This creates a bit of a sticky wicket. Since nothing takes place in Galilee, why has this been left in here? Of course one can say that it’s here because it was in Mark, and there would be some truth to that, but it would not be terribly helpful. The most likely explanation would appear to be a vestige from an earlier, or an alternate, version of the story, perhaps one that originated in the Galilean community. In this vein, let’s notice that these women, who are on their way to the tomb, followed Jesus from Galilee. Does this injunction from the herald of the lord to return to Galilee represent their divine instructions for the founding of the community? That seems plausible, maybe even likely, and it effectively explains the presence of these two elements in the story, and provides a window into how the story was crafted over time. This may be one of the traditions that Mark found, that he incorporated into his mosaic, or tapestry, or whatever unifying metaphor works best.

While this hypothesis may explain some of the pieces, there is one truly serious problem with this whole chain of events and its explanation: there probably was no tomb. As someone crucified, Jesus was probably thrown into a mass grave. I’ve read that in a couple of places, one of them being one of the books of JD Crossan. If there was no tomb, then this story and any alternate versions would have been crafted with the particular perspective of the community that created them, which is why we get the Galilean element. Perhaps we can go deeper into the implications of all this in the chapter summary.

[* Note: I’m reading Xenophon, and there are angels by the score running back and forth between the Greeks and the king. Except they aren’t angels; they are heralds. Here we have another great example of a non-particularly-specific Greek word that has come into English with a very precise and divine meaning. Like dunking. Or baptizing. Remember “Baptizin’ Donuts”? The work in Greek means herald, or messenger, and it was often used of those who negotiated on behalf of another group. In English, the word has come to mean only a messenger from God, and the messenger part is not foremost; it’s a divine creature with a life of its own.] 

5 Respondens autem angelus dixit mulieribus: “ Nolite timere vos! Scio enim quod Iesum, qui crucifixus est, quaeritis.

6 Non est hic: surrexit enim, sicut dixit. Venite, videte locum, ubi positus erat.

7 Et cito euntes dicite discipulis eius: “Surrexit a mortuis et ecce praecedit vos in Galilaeam; ibi eum videbitis”. Ecce dixi vobis ”.

καὶ ἀπελθοῦσαι ταχὺ ἀπὸ τοῦ μνημείου μετὰ φόβου καὶ χαρᾶς μεγάλης ἔδραμον ἀπαγγεῖλαι τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ.

καὶ ἰδοὺ Ἰησοῦς ὑπήντησεν αὐταῖς λέγων, Χαίρετε. αἱ δὲπροσελθοῦσαι ἐκράτησαν αὐτοῦ τοὺς πόδας καὶ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ.

10 τότε λέγει αὐταῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε: ὑπάγετε ἀπαγγείλατε τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς μου ἵνα ἀπέλθωσιν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, κἀκεῖ με ὄψονται.

And quickly going out from the tomb with great fear and great joy, they ran to announce to his disciples. And look! Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings. They approaching him, the took hold of his feet and prostrated (themselves before) him. (10) Then Jesus said to  them, “Do not fear. Get up and announce to my brothers in order to go away to Galilee, and there they will see me”.

We are back to the Galilee injunction, and this time it’s Jesus delivering it. The angel wasn’t enough; the word had to come directly from Jesus. This also represents an escalation of the divine element, and the expansion of Jesus’ post-mortem role. These are both excellent examples of the way legends accumulate material as the progress through time. People “remember” things, or think they do, or hear things and interpret–or misunderstand–them as they repeat the anecdotes. Plus, you get into “if it ain’t true, it ought to be”. This is called myth. Everyone loves a good story. No doubt cultural anthropologists, or mythographers, or experts in folklore and oral tradition have a term for this sort of augmentation. But this simple comparison here shows the process in action. It seems a bit absurd how so many biblical scholars will assert–presumably with a straight face; can’t tell from reading what they say–that Luke and John preserve independent traditions. There is some possibility, outside as it may be, that Matthew has some new material that could be traced back to Jesus, and so just might be historical. For Luke and John, however, and really for most of Matthew, anything “new” is a tradition that was created some time after the fact, most of it after Mark.

It occurs to me that the creation of Mark may have been a turning point in the history of what became Christianity. It is very possible that having a coherent account of Jesus’ life–or at least his ministry in Mark’s case; Matthew and Luke would add the biographical details–really helped the movement gain ground among the pagans. Conversion of Jews was probably more or less moribund even by the time of Paul; which would help explain why he devoted himself to the pagans. By the time of the death of James, brother of Jesus, I would expect that the ministry to convert Jews had pretty well ceased operation. The eventual outcome of this would be the ugly anti-Semitism that has marred so much of Christian history. We did not see it in Mark, at least not explicitly. It’s explicit in Matthew.

But back to Mark. Having a written account doubtless helped tell the story to new groups. This would create new members. One of the results of this would be a desire to fill in some of the many gaps in Mark; and there are very many gaps, the most glaring and gaping being the paucity of Jesus’ teachings. So people started to fill in these gaps: a nativity story, fleshing out the temptation story, adding the Sermon on the Mount and a bunch of parables. Luke will take this further. The result of this is that the focusing of the disparate traditions achieved by Mark was now impossible; the traditions splintered and then splintered again, to the point that we get Gospels of Pilate and Peter and Judas. Elaine Pagels treats this topic of continued revelation very nicely in The Gnostic Gospels, describing how what had become the Church had to suppress these new revelations, eventually setting the number of canonical works and shoving the rest into the dustbin of history. So this process started in earnest, I believe, with Matthew. Luke took it to new lengths, adding a whole appendage about Paul. John did much the same, inventing stories and things Jesus said in order to create a treatment more theological than biographical or historical. And after Luke and John there would be dozens of others; we’ve found a number of them in reasonably complete form, and others in small fragments. Most assuredly there were dozens–hundreds?–more that have been lost irretrievably. 

8 Et exeuntes cito de monumento cum timore et magno gaudio cucurrerunt nuntiare discipulis eius.

9 Et ecce Iesus occurrit illis dicens: “Avete”. Illae autem accesserunt et tenuerunt pedes eius et adoraverunt eum.

10 Tunc ait illis Iesus: “Nolite timere; ite, nuntiate fratribus meis, ut eant in Galilaeam et ibi me videbunt”.

Summary Matthew Chapter 27

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

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

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

So why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Chapter 27:39-54

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

39 Οἱ δὲ παραπορευόμενοι ἐβλασφήμουν αὐτὸν κινοῦντες τὰς κεφαλὰς αὐτῶν

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

39 Praetereuntes autem blasphemabant eum moventes capita sua

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50 Iesus autem iterum clamans voce magna emisit spiritum.

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

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

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

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


Matthew Chapter 27:27-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 καὶ ἐκδύσαντες αὐτὸν χλαμύδα κοκκίνην περιέθηκαν αὐτῷ,

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

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

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

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

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

28 Et exuentes eum, clamydem coccineam circumdederunt ei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

35 σταυρώσαντες δὲ αὐτὸν διεμερίσαντο τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ βάλλοντες κλῆρον,

36 καὶ καθήμενοι ἐτήρουν αὐτὸν ἐκεῖ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

35 Postquam autem crucifixerunt eum, diviserunt vestimenta eius sortem mittentes

36 et sedentes servabant eum ibi.

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

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