Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental study on Daniel 9:25-27

Overview of Daniel 9

Daniel 9 may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative Introduction: Context of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy years (vv. 1-2)
    • Daniel’s Prayer (vv. 3-19)
    • The Prophetic Revelation (by Gabriel) to Daniel (vv. 20-27)

The revelation of verses 20-27 is connected with both the setting of Jeremiah’s prophecy and Daniel’s prayer, a fact that is sometimes neglected by commentators. In examining the prayer (vv. 3-19), we find three main divisions or points of emphasis:

    1. Confession on behalf of the people’s sin, especially in terms of their disobedience to the instruction and righteousness of God (vv. 5-11)
    2. Acknowledgment of the righteous Judgment of God (vv. 12-14)
    3. Supplication to God for mercy and redemption, in two aspects:
      (a) turning away of God’s wrath (vv. 15-16), and
      (b) that God will hear and deliver his people (Israel) and city (Jerusalem) (vv. 17-19)

The setting of the narrative is the (Judean) exile in the early Persian period (v. 1), but the revelation in vv. 20-27, as well as the visions which follow in chapters 10-11, relate to future events (from the standpoint of the narrative). This involves the destiny of God’s people and the city of Jerusalem. The prophecy of Jeremiah mentioned in v. 2, is found in Jer 25:11-12; 29:10—the land will be laid waste for 70 years by Babylon, with the peoples sent into exile, but after these 70 years God promises to visit his people and bring them back to the land (of Judah). In the context of the book of Jeremiah, this can be seen as an accurate prediction, though the “seventy years” almost certainly represents a symbolic, general time frame. However, here in Daniel, the revelation by Gabriel in 9:20-27 has given a new interpretation (or application) to Jeremiah’s prophecy—the 70 years are (re-)intepreted as 490 (70 x 7) years. Again, 490 should be taken here as a symbolic (round) number; the Community of the Dead Sea scrolls seems to have understood it in relation to the Sabbatical year-cycle and the Jubilee year (cf. 11QMelch, etc). This time period is divided as follows (vv. 25-27):

    • From the word to restore and build Jerusalem until (there is) an anointed leader—7 weeks (49 years)
    • Jerusalem will be built and fortified, but in a time of distress—62 weeks (434 years)
    • The anointed one will be “cut off” and a ruler will come to destroy the city and Temple, leading to war and sacrilege, until his destruction—1 week (7 years)

This passage teems with difficulties, and it will not be possible to address them all here. However, I believe a correct interpretation depends on three factors:

    1. Whether the 70 weeks (490 years) should be taken literally or are symbolic—the latter is certainly to be preferred, removing any need to fit the prophecy into a precise and rigid time-frame.
    2. To what does the “going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” refer? Should this be identified with the edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4), of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:12-26), or an earlier date (c. 586) which would allow for ~49 years until the rebuilding of Jerusalem? The context of the passage here rather suggests that it refers to the “going forth” of the word/command of God, coinciding with Daniel’s prayer (v. 23). From the standpoint of the narrative, the 490 years begins with the setting in v. 1 (“the first year of Darius…”).
    3. The context of the revelation, set in verse 24, must be kept in mind, whereby the 70 weeks have been cut/decreed by God, according to the following purpose for his city and people:
      (a) to finish the rebellion, i.e. of the people against God; probably this should be understood as the period of rebellion
      (b) to complete the sins, i.e. of the people, to bring them all to completion
      (c) to cover/wipe (out) evil/iniquity, using the language of priestly, ritual sacrifice
      (d) to bring in (ever)lasting righteousness
      (e) to seal (the) vision, i.e. the prophecy by Jeremiah (v. 2), but also presumably also the visions to Daniel, etc. in the book
      (f) to anoint (the) holy of holy (place)s, i.e. the Temple and its inner sanctuary

However one chooses to interpret this passage, there can be no doubt that its orientation is eschatological—it assumes that the 70 weeks will bring about the end of the current sinful age, and the beginning of a new everlasting period (or Kingdom) of righteousness.

Interpretation and Identity of the “Anointed” in Dan 9:25-26

There are actually two figures who are called “anointed” (j^yv!m*) in this passage, which strongly indicates that the word here does not refer to a specific future/end-time figure subsequently to be known as “the Anointed (One)” (Messiah). Rather, it would seem to apply more generally to the particular leader—king and/or priest—of the people who return to the land following the exile. On the basis of the known history of the early post-exilic period in the Old Testament, the “anointed” leader who is established after the first seven weeks would likely represent the High Priest Joshua, or the (Davidic) ruler Zerubbabel, or both. For the dual-leadership of these two, cf. Zechariah 3-4; 6:9-15; their anointed status is suggested by the phrase “sons of oil” in Zech 4:14. This figure is specifically called “anointed leader [dyg]n`]”; this term often denotes a (military) commander, but can refer to any prominent person who has an (official) position of leadership “in front of” the people.

The second figure in verse 26 is more problematic; it tersely states that “following the sixty-two weeks, (the) anointed (one) will be cut off [tr@K*y], and there will be nothing/no-one [/ya@] for him”. Modern critical commentators generally consider this a reference to the High Priest Onias III, who was murdered by Menelaus c. 171 B.C. in the reign of Antiochus IV (according to 2 Maccabees 4:23-34). This is based on the view that the final seven years in Dan 9:26-27 refer to reign of Antiochus IV and the rise of the Maccabees (i.e. 171-163 B.C.). The critical view is supported by the earliest surviving interpretation of Dan 9:20-27 (1 Maccabees 1, cf. verse 54). The earliest reference to the “anointed” one (of 9:25) would seem to be in the Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek) [11Q13], where he is identified with the herald “anointed of the spirit” (Isa 61:1, also 52:7) who brings the good news of salvation and deliverance to God’s people (col. ii, lines 18-20ff). As far as I am aware, this is the only quotation or allusion to Dan 9:25-26 in the scrolls, and there do not appear to be any other references in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. Jerome, in his Commentary on Daniel (the oldest critical treatment of vv. 24-27), gives a confusing summary of what he considers the Jewish view of the passage, but indicates that vv. 26-27 referred to the Roman defeat of the two Jewish revolts (during the reigns of Vespasian and Hadrian). The latter relates to the quasi-Messianic leader Bar-Kokhba (132-135 A.D.).

Christians, of course, came to interpret the “anointed leader” or “anointed (one)” in vv. 25-26 as a prophecy regarding Jesus, especially of his death, when he was “cut off” and “there was none for him”. However, there is really no evidence in the New Testament itself for this association, and vv. 24-27 are not cited apart from Jesus’ mention of the bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/ew$ (with narrator’s comment) in Mark 13:14 par (on this, cf. below). In the Greek version of Theodotion, the seven weeks and sixty-two weeks are combined (i.e. 69 weeks), which allows for the references in vv. 25 and 26 to be understood in terms of a single Anointed figure. Christian commentators followed this way of reading the text, applying it to Jesus. However, the Masoretic Hebrew clearly separates the seven weeks from the sixty-two weeks, and is almost certainly correct, as recognized by most translations and commentaries today, and which I follow in the outline above. For more on the Christian interpretation of the passage, cf. below.

The bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn (Dan 9:27)

In Dan 9:27, we read:

“…for half of the week he will make cease the slaughtering (of animals) and (the) offering, <m@v)m= <yx!WQv! [n~K= lu^w+, until the end/finish (that has been) cut is poured out upon (the one) laying waste”

After the “anointed” one is cut off, a ruler will come with his army to bring war and destruction upon Jerusalem (and the Temple). In v. 27a, it is stated that this conquering ruler will establish a firm agreement with the multitudes (i.e. of Judah/Jerusalem) for one week (7 years). During the first half of the week (~3+ years), he will do two notable things: (1) cause the sacrificial offerings and the Temple cultus to cease operation, and (2) the phrase left untranslated in Hebrew. Difficulties abound regarding this latter phrase; literally, the Masoretic text reads:

“and upon the wing [[nk] of despicable (thing)s he lays waste”
or, perhaps:
“and upon the wing of despicable (thing)s (the one) laying waste (comes)”

This does not make particularly good sense in the context of the verse, complicated further by the interpretation/translation in the Greek versions:

“and upon the Temple there will be a stinking (thing) of desolations [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn]”

The Hebrew suggests a person, whereas the Greek, perhaps understanding the “wing” [[nk] to be the side or pinnacle of the Temple (cf. Lk 4:9), seems to indicate something (an idolatrous object?) placed on the Temple structure. The earliest interpretation is found in 1 Maccabees 1:54, following the Greek rendering—the “stinking thing of desolations” [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn] is identified with a pagan altar that Antiochus IV had set upon the altar in the Temple (v. 59, also 4:43), and upon which, it would seem, unlawful/unclean pagan sacrifices were offered (cf. 2 Macc 6:5). In light of this, some critical commentators have proposed emending the Hebrew [nk (“wing”) to <nk (“their place”), with the expression then being <nk lu (“upon their place”, cf. Dan 11:38), i.e. the pagan altar with its sacrifices in place of the prescribed sacrificial offerings of the Temple (Collins, Daniel, p. 358). This is very reasonable, but it involves the always questionable step of emending the text (with no other external support, unfortunately 9:20-27 is not present in the Daniel scroll fragments from Qumran); it also depends on the particular interpretation of vv. 26-27 as describing the reign of Antiochus IV.

The Greek expression “the stinking (thing) of desolation [sing.]” [bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$] is found in the New Testament, in the so-called Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mark 13:14 / Matt 24:15), along with the same narrator’s aside in both passages. According to the standard critical hypothesis, Matthew is reproducing Mark’s text verbatim. As part of his description of the time of intense suffering and distress about to come upon Judea and Jerusalem, the Gospel tradition records this declaration by Jesus:

“But when you see ‘the stinking (thing) of desolation’ having stood where it certainly should not (be)”—the one reading must have (this) in mind—”then the (one)s in Judea must flee into the hills…” (Mk 13:14)

While the expression clearly comes from Dan 9:27, it is by no means certain precisely what Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer[s]) understand this to be. The closest we have to an interpretation is found in Luke’s version, which seems to have transformed the reference (note the portions identical with Mark/Matthew in italics):

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by swaths of soldiers, then know that her desolation has come near” (Lk 21:20)

It now refers simply to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, which was fulfilled in the war of 66-70 A.D. Given the fact that so much of the Eschatological Discourse was more or less accurately fulfilled in the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Gospel writers (and Jesus himself) may well have had this in mind—(re-)interpreting Dan 9:26-27 into the (current) context of the Roman Empire. Commentators, however, continue to debate whether the bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$ is intended to describe a particular act of desecration by Rome. Among the possibilities are:

    • The emperor Gaius’ (Caligula) establishment of the imperial cult, including his statue which was to be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, transforming it into an imperial shrine (c. 40 A.D., Josephus, Antiquities 18.256-307). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had similarly set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple.
    • The destruction and despoiling of the Temple by Titus in 70 A.D.
    • The transformation of Jerusalem into a (pagan) Roman city (Aelia Capitolina) in the reign of Hadrian, following the suppression of the Jewish (Bar-Kochba) revolt in 132-135 A.D.

For those who interpret Dan 9:26-27 from a modern-day futurist standpoint (cf. below), the setting up of the “stinking thing of desolation” in Jerusalem is yet to occur. If Paul has Dan 9:27 in mind in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (vv. 3-4), then he understands it as a person, who will take his place in the Temple, which accords with the wording of the Masoretic Hebrew text (above). Modern futurist interpretation typically identifies this figure with the “Antichrist” (1 Jn 2:18) and the Beast of Rev 13-19.

Christian Interpretation and Eschatology

The earliest surviving interpretation of Jesus as the “Anointed” of Dan 9:25-26 is probably in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis (Bk 1, chap. 21, late 2nd century), though it is also implied somewhat earlier in the treatment of verse 27 in the so-called Epistle of Barnabas 16 and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies V.25ff. From the early 3rd century, cf. also Tertullian’s Answer to the Jews §8, 13, and Origen, Against Celsus 6:46. For these Church Fathers, the time of Antichrist (v. 27) was represented by the false teaching and “Gnostic” views of the period, which they so eagerly sought to combat. Unfortunately, the Commentary of Hippolytus on Daniel (early-mid 3rd century) does not survive complete, but in at least one fragment (on the “abomination of desolation” in v. 27, cf. above), he provides a two-fold interpretation: it relates (1) to that set up by Antiochus IV, and (2) to that which will yet take place when Antichrist comes. Many thoughtful readers and commentators today will likely end up adopting a similar view (cf. below). In Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, in his lengthy (and critical) discussion of vv. 24-27, he quotes from Hippolytus as well as a lengthy extract from Eusebius’ Demonstration of the Gospel (8:2). Another important citation from Hippolytus is found in the much later Commentary of Dionysius bar-Salibi on Revelation (Rev 11:2). For other relevant passages in the writings of the Church Fathers in the 4th and 5th centuries, see e.g., Eusebius’ Church History 1.6.11; 3.5.4; Theophania 4:35-36; Athanasius’ History of the Arians §§76-77; Cyril of Jerusalem, Lecture 12.19; Aphrahat, Demonstration 17.19; 21.

As indicated above, the standard modern critical view holds that Daniel 9:26-27 refers to the period of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), the Seleucid Greco-Syrian king who ruled c. 175-164 B.C. On the whole, this is likely to be correct, given the way that the subsequent visions in chapters 10-11 seem to describe the rise and history of the Greek (Alexandrian/Hellenistic) Empire, which is usually understood as the fourth Kingdom/Beast of the visions in chapters 2 and 7 as well. Fitting the historical events precisely into the prophetic scheme of Dan 9:20-27 is rather more difficult. Identifying the “anointed” one who is “cut off” with the High Priest Onias III is certainly plausible, but far from certain. Also, as discussed above, it is not entirely clear that the actions of the coming ruler of vv. 26-27 truly match those of Antiochus in detail. Far more problematic, however, at least for those who take the inspiration of Scripture seriously, is that the eschatological Age did not come with the death of Antiochus, the re-establishment of Jewish rule under the Maccabees, and the re-dedication/consecration of the Temple. The period of the Maccabees was by no means a time of “everlasting righteousness” (9:24), as the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. make abundantly clear.

It is not surprising, then, that the Qumran Community and the early Christians would interpret and apply the passage according to their own eschatological viewpoint. For the earliest believers in Jesus, the coming of the end-time Judgment (and with it the return of Christ) appeared to be imminent, marked by the “birth pains” described by Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse—Roman imperial control of Judea, threat of rebellion and war, the appearance of Messianic pretenders, the persecution and arrest of believers, etc—which would culminate in the war of 66-70 A.D. with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (and the Temple). Much, if not most, of what Jesus predicts in Mark 13 par, can be seen as more or less accurately being fulfilled in this period. It is certainly possible to understand the “stinking thing [i.e. abomination] of desolation” in this context as well, as I discuss above. However, there remains the same problem—the end did not come with these events, not after the destruction of the war of 66-70, nor the revolt of 132-5 A.D. Even if Jesus were correctly understood as the “Anointed” one of Dan 9:26, to what extent has a period of “everlasting righteousness” been established on earth?

This, in turn, has led some modern-day commentators to posit a time gap between the first 69 weeks (483 years) and the last week (7 years)—the last week is yet to be fulfilled, and will occur some time (very soon) in the future. While this may seem like a good way to harmonize Scripture and preserve its historical accuracy, unfortunately there is no support for it in the text of Daniel itself. Nothing in Dan 9:20-27 suggests any sort of gap in time (let alone of 2000+ years) before the final week. More feasible, in my view, is the idea that the events of vv. 20-27 are fulfilled at two levels—(1) the historical fulfillment culminating in the period c. 170-163 B.C., and (2) the typological fulfillment in the life and person of Jesus. According to the second (Christological) aspect, the 70 weeks have an even more pronounced symbolic sense—rather than attempting to fit them into a chronological scheme, it is better to view them as representing the fulfillment of God’s determined plan for His people. The period of distress, war, and religious persecution in vv. 26-27 is likewise representative of events which have been played out countless times throughout history, even in the case of the city of Jerusalem itself.

Returning to the original context of Daniel 9:20-27, it may be fair to ask in what sense it is eschatological. As I see it, there are two possibilities:

    1. The eschatology is real—i.e., verses 26-27 describe events which mark the end-time and the completion of the current Age.
    2. The situation of Israelite/Jewish history (regardless of how one dates the book) is being described, symbolically, using eschatological language and imagery, to express the hope and belief in God’s deliverance of his people.

The apparent chronological calculations in the passage would suggest that it is meant to show the fulfillment of historical events. According to the mainstream critical view, the book of Daniel (esp. chapters 7-12) dates from a time c. 165 B.C., and that the visions and revelations are, for the most part, ex eventu prophecies—descriptions of events which have already occurred. Traditional-critical commentators, on the other hand, are much more inclined to take the setting of the narrative at face value, holding that Dan 9:20-27 is an authentic revelation from the time of the historical Daniel (early 6th century). Neither approach, however, has been able to explain entirely how the events in vv. 25-27 have been, or will be, fulfilled in history. One should therefore take seriously the symbolic aspect of the passage, especially in its use of the Sabbatical year-cycle to mark its chronology. The year of Jubilee begins in the middle of the seventh Sabbatical year (i.e. the last “week”), on the 10th day of the 7th month, which is the Day of Atonement (cf. Daniel’s prayer and v. 24). Forty-nine (49) years precede the Jubilee, corresponding to the 490 years (49 x 10) in vv. 20-27. All of this symbolism was clearly recognized and expounded in the Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek), which happens to contains the earliest surviving direct allusion to Dan 9:25-26 (cf. above).

The text 11QMelch may also be seen as providing an interesting bit of evidence in support of viewing Jesus as the “anointed” one of Dan 9:25. As noted above, in col. ii lines 18-20, this figure in Daniel is identified with the herald “anointed of the spirit” in Isa 61:1ff—the same Messianic figure with which Jesus identifies himself in Luke 4:18-20; 7:19-23 par. This demonstrates that, by the time of Jesus, there were at least some Jews who interpreted the “anointed” of Dan 9:25 as one who would bring the good news of salvation to God’s people.

References above marked “Collins, Daniel” are to the Commentary on Daniel by John J. Collins in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993).

April 4 (2): John 11:23-26

The wordplay typical of the Gospel of John—encompassing two levels of meaning at the same time—continues in the scene which records the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). This is the last major event of the first half of the Gospel, sometimes referred to as the as the “Book of Signs” (largely due to the scholarly view of a separate [written] source used for chapters 2-11). These “signs” (shmei=a) are not simply “miracles (duna/mei$, te/rata), but include Old Testament themes, details of the Jewish feasts, etc., with which Jesus identifies himself. The “Bread of Life” discourse in John 6 is a good example: not only is there a miracle (feeding of the 5000, 6:1-14), but the Passover motif of manna (“bread from heaven”, 6:25-59) which Jesus uses to reveal something of his identity (as the Son of God). It is also an example of how listeners hear and often misunderstand the (deeper) meaning of Jesus’ words (see vv. 34, 41-42, 52, [60-61]).

In the Lazarus episode, the disciples at first seem quite to misunderstand Jesus’ words to them (11:11-16), the significance of “sleep” and “death”. There is a similar exchange between Martha and Jesus when she comes out to meet him (vv. 21-27); and it is this passage which I wish to discuss here.

1. “Your brother will stand up” (v. 23f)

The Greek reads a)nasth/setai o( a)delfo/$ sou. Now, a)nasth/setai, usually translated “he will rise [again]”, would be rendered literally as “he will stand up” with the sense of “he will stand again“. This word, along with the derived noun a)na/stasi$ (“standing up”), came to be a technical term for the resurrection of the dead. So, when Jesus tells Martha her brother “will stand up [again]”, she replies, “I know that he will stand up in the ‘standing-up’ in the last day” (v. 24)—a quite natural belief in a future (bodily) resurrection. Without denying this conventional belief, Jesus immediately points to a deeper reality:

2. “I am the standing-up (and the life)” (v. 25a)

e)gw/ ei)mi h( a)na/stasi$ kai\ h( zwh/, “I am the standing-up and the life”. Several manuscripts (Ë45 itl syrs, pal ms Diatessaronsyr) and Church Fathers omit kai\ h( zwh/, which creates an even more direct response to Martha: “I am the standing-up [i.e. I am the resurrection]”. Here Jesus goes beyond identifying himself (e)gw ei)mi) with an Old Testament theme or traditional religious detail (which represent eternal life), and identifies himself with life itself. In the Gospel of John, the word zwh/ (“life”) nearly always indicates “eternal life” (literally, in the idiom “life of the Age”). This idiom, quite unfamiliar to English, covers not only the future (“the Age to Come”), but also is used to represent an indefinite or long period of time (i.e., “forever”, “eternity”, “everlasting”, also “of old”, “ancient”). However, in early Christianity (and the Gospel of John in particular), the traditional juxtaposition of “This Age” and “the Age to Come” was widened, so that ai)w/nio$ could refer to anything which is not limited by time and temporal change. Specifically, this was language used to describe God and the Spirit of God, and, by extension, to the spiritual realm. In the Johannine context, all the works of God are ultimately made known and experienced at the spiritual level—that is, eternally—by all believers now. One does not need to wait for the future (bodily) resurrection to know the reality of resurrection in the present, in Christ.

3. “The one trusting in me…shall never die” (v. 25b, 26)

Jesus continues: o( pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ka)n a)poqa/nh| zh/setai, kai\ pa=$ o( zw=n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ou) mh\ a)poqa/nh| ei)$ to\n ai)w=na, “the one trusting in(to) me, even if he should die, he shall live; and every one living and trusting in(to) me should not die into the Age”. One finds a good deal of ambiguity in the words here: does Jesus refer to physical life and death, spiritual life and death, both, or some combination of the two? I’m not sure one can divide it up so neatly, without robbing the words of much of their power. As I see it, Jesus starts at the point of physical life and death (the setting of Lazarus’ death)—in both phrases, a)poqa/nh| is the same (aorist subjunctive, “he should/might die” as a specific act or event), but with a contextual difference: (a) the first is a conditional clause (“even if he should die”), (b) the second has a negative particle (ou) mh\) + aorist subjunctive, which often carries the force of an imperative (“he shall not die!”); and (c) the second clause is also qualified (“he should not die into the Age“)—one may even say that the phrase “into the Age” (ei)$ to\n ai)w=na) in some way qualifies the entire exposition (“the one trusting in[to] me…into the Age”). The verb za/w (“live”) is handled in a different manner: (a) in the first clause we find a future middle indicative form (zh/setai, “he will [himself] live”) cited as a promise for “the one trusting” in Christ; (b) in the second clause, an active present participle (o( zw=n, “the one living”) acts as the subject, parallel to o( pisteu/wn (“the one trusting”) in the first clause; (c) the participle in each clause is qualified: by ei)$ e)me\ (“the one trusting in me“), and by pa=$ (“all the one[s] living” or “every one living”). “All…in Me”: for the believer, physical life and spiritual/eternal life are interconnected—they cannot be separated.

We could not expect Martha to have immediately captured the full meaning of Jesus’ extraordinary words—even after years of study and contemplation, we cannot entirely comprehend them. However, as believers we do know and experience their full reality, by the Spirit, our life in union with God and Christ.

(These verses are discussed in considerably more detail in a series of notes which will be posted here the week after Easter Sunday.)

Some commentators have theorized that the “Beloved Disciple” (literally “whom he loved” o^n h)ga/pa, once o^n e)fi/lei)—traditionally identified with the apostle John, and the source/author of the fourth Gospel—might actually be Lazarus. The main reason is found in the references (11:3, 5, 11, 36) which state that Jesus loved Lazarus (the only male figure in the Gospel where this is stated). Perhaps an even stronger argument is that references to the “beloved disciple” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7; 21:20) only appear after the Lazarus scene, none prior. The traditional identification with the apostle John is very strong—and still to be preferred; however, one should be cautious about simply taking the identification for granted, since it is nowhere specified in the text of the Gospel.

How Well Do You Know the Story? Part 2 (Saturday Series)

Last week, we examined a key textual variant in the Passion Narrative. Now, today, with Holy Week approaching (tomorrow being Palm Sunday), I wish to present a number of other variants which are important for a sound understanding of the text. Each will be introduced and examined briefly.

Luke 22:43-44

The next variant involves a famous detail of the prayer scene in the Garden; the passage is as follows (with the disputed portion in double-square brackets, according to the Nestle-Aland critical text [27th ed.]):

40genomenos de epi tou topou eipen autois: proseuchesthe m¢ eiselthein eis peirasmon. 41kai autos apespasth¢ ap’ autœn hœsei lithou bol¢n kai theis ta gonata pros¢ucheto 42legœn: pater, ei boulei parenengke touto to pot¢rion a)p’ emou: pl¢n m¢ to thel¢ma mou alla to son ginesthœ. [[43œphth¢ de autœ angelos ap’ ouranou enischuœn auton. 44kai genomenos en agœnia ektenesteron pros¢ucheto: kai egeneto ho hidrœs autou hœsei thromboi haimatos katabainontos epi t¢n g¢n.]] 45kai anastas apo t¢s proseuch¢s elthœn pros tous math¢tas heuren koimœmenous autous apo t¢s lup¢s, 46kai eipen autois: ti katheudete? anastantes proseuchesthe, hina m¢ eiselth¢te ei$ peirasmon.

40And coming to be upon the place, he said to them: “Pray not to enter into testing.” 41And he drew out from them like a stone’s throw (away), and setting (down) the knees he prayed, 42saying: “Father, if you wish, carry away this cup from me, but more—(let) not my will but yours come to be.” [[43And a Messenger from heaven was seen (by/unto) him, strengthening him. 44And coming to be in agony, more fervently he prayed: and his sweat came to be like thick-drops of blood going down upon the earth.]] 45And rising from the prayer, coming to(ward) the learners he found them sleeping from sorrow, 46and he said to them: “What, you are asleep? Stand up (and) pray not to come into testing.”

Unlike the case of vv. 19-20 discussed last week, in this instance the external (manuscript) evidence is evenly divided:

    • Manuscripts Ë69 (apparently), Ë75, aa, A, B, N, R, T, W, 579, family 13 mss, etc., as well as a number of key early translations (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, etc.) and a number of Church Fathers (such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria), do not include vv. 43-44. A number of additional manuscripts include the verses but mark them with asterisks as suspect.
    • Manuscripts a*, D, K, L, X, G, D, 565, family 1 mss, etc., along with key translations (Syriac, Coptic, Latin, etc.), and a number of Church fathers, do include the verses.

To judge by some of the best/earliest Alexandrian manuscripts, a slight edge would be given to the shorter text, as well as on the basis of the principle lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is [generally] to be preferred”). However, it is hard to say which is the more difficult reading. Did scribes add the verses, perhaps to help combat “docetic” Christologies by emphasizing the suffering of Jesus? Or, did scribes delete the verses, because they seemed to give too much emphasis on the human suffering of Christ? It is always easier to explain how such variants were preserved in the manuscripts, than to explain how they first came about.

In any event, the change, whichever direction it occurred (add or omit), must have taken place before the end of the second-century, since late-second- and early-third-century witnesses attest both forms of the text. Vv. 43-44 clearly represent an ancient tradition — early Church Fathers like Justin Martyr (see the Dialogue with Trypho c. 103) cite it, though not specifically as coming from the Gospel of Luke.

On the whole, the text-critical evidence appears to be slightly in favor of the shorter reading. So cherished and familiar are vv. 43-44, however—and such a powerful ancient tradition—that even scholars who reject them as original still feel compelled to include them (bracketed, as in the Nestle-Aland text above) and to comment upon them.

Mark 14:68, 72

This is an interesting instance of a small, but notable seeming discrepancy between the Gospels. Only Mark mentions the rooster “giving voice” (crowing) twice—both in the prophecy (14:30), and here in these verses. However, here the textual evidence is a bit confused, almost certainly due to attempts to harmonize the account—but in which direction? Was kai alektœr ephœn¢sen (“and [the] rooster gave voice [i.e., sounded/crowed]”) added to the end of v. 68 (it is missing from a number of manuscripts) in order to fulfill (literally) Jesus’ prophecy by recording two crowings; or, was it deleted in order to harmonize with the other Gospels. The manuscript evidence is divided. Again, in v. 72, a number of manuscripts do not have the words ek deuterou (“from/for a second [time]”), and the same question can be asked.

Luke 23:34

For students unfamiliar with these text-critical questions, it may come as a bit of a surprise that a good number of early manuscripts (Ë75, ac, B, D*, W, Q, 0124, 579, 1241, and some Syriac and Coptic translations) do not include Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness: ho de I¢sous elegen: Pater, aphes autois, ou gar oidasin ti poiousin. (“And Yeshua said, ‘Father, release/forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.'”) This is a wide range of good (and geographically diverse) textual witnesses, including the earliest relevant Papyrus (Bodmer, Ë75). On the other hand, the majority text, including both family 1 & 13 MSS, and the entire later Koine text tradition, along with key early manuscripts (a*, C, Dc, L, G, D, 0117) and many early translations, include the text. Once again, the manuscript evidence is fairly evenly divided, perhaps with a slight edge to the shorter reading, though it is hard to say for certain. Was this an ancient (authentic) saying of Jesus that was inserted in this location by early scribes? I disagree with scholars who claim that it is easier to explain its omission than its insertion. Orthodox scribes, on the whole, appear to have been reluctant to delete Christologically significant sayings or details, and were more likely to add or preserve them. It is quite possible that, once the saying became embedded in the textual tradition (however this exactly came about), it was really too wonderful ever to be removed.

Mark 15:25 and John 19:14

In order to harmonize the chronology between the Synoptic gospels and John, a few manuscripts and versions, read hekt¢ (“sixth [hour]”), instead of trit¢ (“third [hour]”) at Mark 15:25; correspondingly, the opposite variant occurs in a number of manuscripts (ac Dsupp L X D Y, etc.) at John 19:14. The apparent chronological discrepancies between the Passion accounts of John and the Synoptics are notorious, and represents a long-standing, and widely discussed area of New Testament interpretation. All three Synoptics appear to record the Last Supper as a Passover meal; and yet John (in 19:14 and 31) explicitly notes that Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover eve (when the lambs were slaughtered). There have been a number of attempts to reconcile these discrepancies, and so preserve strict historical accuracy in all four Gospels; but these solutions, while possible, are not entirely convincing. A theory, popularized by A. Jaubert (La date de la Cène [1957]; The Date of the Last Supper [1965]; and other articles) posited that Jesus and his followers, as recorded in the Synoptics made use of an older [364-day] solar calendar (also utilized by the Qumran sect, and in the Book of Jubilees, etc.), while John records Jesus’ crucifixion on Passover eve according to the [“official”] Jewish lunar calendar. This theory was once in vogue, but has since fallen somewhat out of favor.

In any case, this textual variant would seem to be more of a simple attempt at harmonization. A reminder that, as we have seen, this sort of variant occurs quite often in the manuscript tradition.

Mark 15:28

Quite a few of the early manuscripts do not have verse 28: kai epl¢rœth¢ h¢ graph¢ h¢ legousa, kai meta anomœn elogisth¢ (“And the Writing was fulfilled which says, ‘and he was counted with the lawless'”). If it is indeed an interpolation, it was most likely added from the parallel in Luke 22:37. As I have noted above, scribes were prone to adding Christological details (such as the fulfilment of messianic prophecy), or to harmonizing the text to that of the other Gospels.

Luke 23:42

Here the variant involves but a single preposition (eis versus en) with an accompanying change in case. The “good thief” on the cross asks of Jesus:

Mn¢sth¢ti mou hotan elth¢s (“Remember me when you come…”)

    1. eis t¢n basileian sou. (“…into your kingdom.”)
    2. en t¢ basileia sou. (“…in/with your kingdom.”)

The first variant, which seems to refer to Jesus coming into the presence of his Father in heaven (after death), is the reading of MSS Ë75 (the oldest relevant Papyrus), B, L, and the Latin versions. The second variant, would appear to have an eschatological meaning (i.e., when Jesus comes [again] in [or along with] his kingdom), and is attested by the majority of Greek manuscripts (a, A, C2, R, W, Y, 0124, 0135, family 1 & 13 mss, and the later Koine/Byzantine text tradition).  It is hard to say for certain, based on the manuscript evidence, which reading is more likely to be original. Jesus’ response seems to imply the first variant, but he may also be “correcting” the second variant—that is, the thief asks Jesus to remember him when he comes to set up his kingdom, but Jesus responds that the thief will be with him in paradise today.

John 19:29

An interesting detail: a few manuscripts read hyssœ (“[putting round] a pole”), instead of hyssœpœ (“[putting round] a hyssop [branch]”). The latter is almost certainly the correct reading, the former arising perhaps as a scribal accident. However, it may have been preserved in these few manuscripts because it seemed to make more sense in context. John may be bringing out an explicit connection with Passover (see Exodus 12:20). It is important to recognize that textual changes, especially in the relatively rare instances they are made intentionally, are typically not made out of a malicious intent – rather, they generally are the result of a pious regard for clarifying the text when its meaning seemed to them ambiguous or obscure.

Mark 15:34

Another interesting detail: a few ‘Western’ manuscripts (including D) read ho theos mou ho theo$ mou, eis ti œneidisas me? (“My God, my God, unto what [i.e. why] have you reproached me?”), instead of ho theos mou ho theos mou, eis ti engkatelipes me? (“My God, my God, unto what have you abandoned me?”). oneidízœ has the basic sense of “insult, disgrace”, also “revile, reproach”. It would seem that a scribe, perhaps not understanding how God could, or would, “abandon / leave behind” Jesus, may have intentionally modified the text. This touches upon the sensitive question of intentional alterations (whether orthodox or heretical/heterodox) to the text of Scripture. As indicated above, these are relatively rare occurrences – indeed, it is often hard to tell for sure whether a scribal change was intentional or accidental. But it is a real phenomenon in the textual tradition.

Matthew 27:49-50

A number of important manuscripts (a, B, C, L, al) include the words allos de labœn longch¢n enyxen autou t¢n pleuran, kai ex¢lthen hydœr kai haima (“and another, taking a spear, pricked his side, and water and blood came out”) – a detail otherwise known from the Gospel of John (19:34) – at the end of the verse. Oddly, in Matthew these appear prior to Jesus’ cry and death. Are these words, then, original, having been deleted because of their strange location? Or was it introduced from John, perhaps accidentally, by way of a marginal comment. The evidence would rather seem to be against the words being original here. Again, however, the addition of Christological details, such as the water and blood from his side, would have been tempting to scribes, especially when they harmonize with other familiar passages in the Gospels.

Luke 24:6

A few manuscripts, primarily ‘Western’ (D with at least seven Latin mss), do not include the words ouk estin hœde, alla ¢gerth¢ (“He is not here, he has risen”). The shorter text, despite the slight manuscript support, has been accepted as original by a number of scholars (past and present), as a so-called “Western non-Interpolation” (for more on this term, see the concluding note below). The general argument in favor of these shorter readings (besides lectio brevior potior – “the shorter reading is [generally] to be preferred”), is that there is no good reason to account for the words being deleted or omitted, whereas they could easily have been added to harmonize with Matthew/Mark. However, I think that, in this instance, the superior manuscript evidence is decisive – I would tend to regard the longer text as original.

Luke 24:12 and 40

Two more examples of possible interpolations: a number of ‘Western’ manuscripts (D, with Latin and Old Syriac mss) do not include v. 12ho de Petros anastas edramen epi to mn¢meion kai parakypsas blepei ta othonia mona, kai ap¢lthen pros heauton thaumazœn to gegonos (“But Peter, standing up, ran upon/to the memorial/tomb, and, stretching out [to look], saw the linen-strips alone, and he went from [there], wondering to himself [about] what had come to be”); as well as v. 40: kai touto eipœn edeixen autois tas cheiras kai tous podas (“And, having said this, he showed to them the hands and the feet”). The external manuscript support for these verses is overwhelming, including all the earliest/best manuscripts (except D): Ë75, a, A, B, K, L, W, X, D, etc. Notwithstanding, some scholars consider the shorter reading in each case to be original (‘Western non-Interpolations’ – see below), the verses having been added from John (20:3-7 and 20). Modern detailed studies of both Gospels, however, have led scholars rather to the general conclusion that, here in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, in particular, Luke and John are both drawing upon common tradition. Especially in the case of v. 12, where the account is greatly truncated compared with that in John, a scribal insertion is far less likely.

Mark 16:8-20

This is probably the most famous and widely-discussed ‘interpolation’ (after the pericope of the Adulteress, John 7:53-8:11) in the entire New Testament. So much has been written about these verses over the years, that it is hardly worth going into them in detail here. However, here is a summary of the evidence:

    • Verses 9-20 are not in the two major codices (the earliest relevant Greek manuscripts) a and B, two major Latin and Syriac MS, and some Armenian and Georgian MSS. Other Greek MSS mark the passage with asterisks or notes, to indicate that it is suspect.
    • A few manuscripts (L, Y, 099, 0112, al), and a number of early translations (Latin, Syriac, Coptic) include two endings: vv 9-20, along with an additional “short ending” following v. 8 (one Latin MSS only has the short ending, without vv. 9-20)
      The short ending (NRSV):
      “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”
    • The majority of Greek manuscripts (A, C, D, K, W, X, D, etc. al.) contain vv. 9-20, with some occasional smaller variants.

    • One Greek manuscript has an expanded version of vv. 9-20 (between v. 14-15).

The patristic evidence (i.e., from the Church Fathers) is divided. Clement of Alexandria and Origen (late-second/third century) do not seem to know of vv. 9-20, while Irenaeus and (possibly) Justin Martyr (mid-late-second century) do.

The vast majority of Critical scholars (including many Protestant Evangelical scholars) do not consider vv. 9-20 to part of the original Gospel of Mark. In addition to the external (manuscript) evidence mentioned above, much of the vocabulary in these verses, and the way they seem to connect awkwardly with vv. 1-8, argue against them. As a summary of the evidence from a modern Critical perspective, one can not do better than the discussion in the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd edition, pp. 102-107). From a traditional-conservative point of view, John Burgon’s The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel of St. Mark… (1871) remains perhaps the most extensive and exhaustive treatment – though it is very dated in places (especially his handling of patristic evidence), and at times harshly polemical.

It would seem that the standing text-critical view is likely correct. Metzger makes, I think, one of the best arguments with regard to the “short ending” (#2 above): “No one who had available as the conclusion of the Second Gospel the twelve verses 9-20, so rich in interesting material, would have deliberately replaced them with a few lines of a colorless and generalized summary.” (Textual Commentary, p. 105).

Assuming that the critical view is correct, that what we have of the original text of Mark ends at verse 8—what happened? Two main possibilities are generally presented:

    1. That Mark ended his gospel at verse 8.
    2. That the original ending has been lost.

A surprising number of scholars accept the first hypothesis. While ending the gospel with “…and they said nothing to no one, for they were afraid” may appeal in some way to modern audiences, I find it hard to believe that an early Christian author would have ended it this way. Surely he would have included an appearance of Jesus to the women and/or the main body of disciples, possibly with some kind of concluding address. I find it rather more likely that a page was lost, presumably very early in the transmission (early 2nd century?), when the Gospel had begun circulating as a codex (bound book) rather than as a scroll. Mark was never as popular as the other Gospels, and seems to have been copied far less frequently (indeed early remains are quite scarce). We will probably never know for certain.

Luke 24:51

Here again, Western manuscripts (D, Old Latin mss), along with the Siniaitic Syriac MS and the original hand of a have the shorter reading, without the words kai anephereto eis ton ouranon (“and he was carried up into the heaven”). The vast majority of MSS, including all the early/best Greek MSS (Ë75, a [corrected], A, B, C, K, L, W, X, D, etc.) contain the words. The manuscript evidence would seem to be decidedly in favor of the longer reading, but internal considerations make it a bit less certain. In which direction did the change occur? It is certainly possible that scribes, noticing the apparent discrepancy between v. 51 and Luke’s own account of the Ascension in Acts 1:1-11, deleted the words. In the Gospel, it would seem that the Ascension takes place on the same night as the Resurrection, whereas in Acts (v. 3) it occurs 40 days later. On the other hand, a scribe may have inserted the words, in order to have the Gospel end with an account of the Ascension. Of course, this may well have been Luke’s intention as the author. I suspect that the apparent discrepancy may be the result of Luke compressing/conflating the narrative, thereby giving the impression that it all happened on one night. This sort of handling of historical narrative was quite common with ancient writers, as unsatisfying as it might be to our modern sensibilities. The longer reading, I think, is more likely original.

Final Note on “Western Non-Interpolations”

A number of the most significant variants discussed above involve the so-called “Western non-Interpolations”. This awkward term comes from Westcott and Hort in their greatly-influential late-nineteenth century critical edition of the New Testament. I will examine this interesting topic a bit further, perhaps, in a subsequent article. All it really means is that there are a number of key instances where the “Western” group of manuscripts (of which the Beza Codex [D] is the most prominent) has the shorter reading. This is especially significant, because the Western text (in Luke-Acts) typically is more expansive and usually has the longer variant reading. In a number of such instances, Westcott and Hort, followed by later scholars, accepted the shorter reading as original, even when the vast majority of manuscripts agree with the longer reading. The originality of these shorter readings is being increasingly rejected by critical scholars today, largely due to the presence of the longer readings in the early (Bodmer) Papyri.

April 4 (1): Luke 19:10

Luke 19:10

The next Son of Man saying in the Gospel of Luke occurs in Lk 19:10 and is the subject of today’s Easter season note. It is found at the end of the story narrating Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10), an episode unique to Luke’s Gospel, and a favorite sure to be found in any collection of children’s Bible stories. It is possible that the saying in verse 10 has been appended (by the author and/or a tradition he inherited) to the narrative in vv. 1-9, and that it originally circulated as a separate saying. This is all the more likely since the very saying also appears at Lk 9:56a and Matt 18:11 in certain manuscripts, marking it as a “floating” tradition. Be that as it may, we must examine the saying here in the context of the Lukan narrative, where it serves as the climax to the Zacchaeus story. It reads as follows:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the (thing which) has been ruined”

Any reader familiar with Luke’s Gospel will immediately think of the parables in Lk 15—the lost sheep (vv. 3-7, cf. Matt 18:12-13), the lost coin (vv. 8-10), and the lost son (vv. 11-32)—all of which use the verb a)po/llumi, as here in 19:10. This verb is actually quite difficult to render literally in English; above I have translated it in something like its fundamental sense—”ruin, destroy”. However, formally, it might be rendered better as “lose/suffer loss from (someone or something)”—and, indeed, it is often used, as in the parables of Lk 15, in the sense of something being lost. In suffering loss, the person (or the collective) is thereby ruined, the whole is destroyed. This is fundamental to the idea of salvation expressed in these sayings and parables of Jesus—of seeking and finding again that which has been lost or destroyed.

It is not entirely certain how the saying of verse 10 relates to the narrative of vv. 1-9. There are two possibilities:

    1. Zaccheus, a wealthy head toll-collector (v. 2), upon encountering Jesus (vv. 3-5) and welcoming him under his roof (vv. 6-7), repents of his previous behavior (implied) and offers to pay back fourfold, etc whatever he has obtained through fraud and unscrupulous action (typical of toll-collectors as “sinners”).
    2. Zaccheus, though a wealthy head toll-collector, tries to act honorably and in a right manner, always making sure to give to the poor and pay back fourfold anything that may have been obtained inappropriately.

The saying of verse 10 would, of course, seem to indicate the former; however, the context of the story itself actually may suggest the latter. Zaccheus himself does not appear to be “lost”—he intentionally seeks out Jesus, eager to see him, and immediately accepts Jesus’ request and welcomes him into his house. A key to the correct interpretation may be found in verse 7, where certain onlookers mutter disapprovingly “he goes along with a sinful man into (his house) to loose down [i.e. stay for the night]”. This reaction is similar to that of the Pharisees in Lk 5:30 (where Jesus has entered the house of another toll-collector), and of the elder brother in the lost son parable (Lk 15:28-30). There is in fact a reasonably precise parallel between the toll-collectors Levi and Zaccheus: they both respond immediately to the call/request of Jesus and take him into their house. That they are toll-collectors, typically regarded as unethical and “sinful” by the cultural-religious standards of Jewish society at the time, is irrelevant—except insofar as it points out, strikingly, the tendency of Jesus to seek the poor and outcast element of society, which is especially an important theme in the Gospel of Luke. In the case of the lost-son parable, the “prodigal” was part of a well-to-do and “righteous” family who fell into sinful ways; Levi and Zaccheus, by contrast, are deemed “sinners” simply because of the circumstances of their livelihood and position in society. Cf. the parable in Lk 18:9-14 for an example of a truly humble and upright toll-collector, in contrast to the hypocritical and self-righteous piety of the religious.

However one may interpret verse 8—is Zaccheus’ behavior exemplary or does he repent of unscrupulous behavior?—it seems clear from the narrative that salvation comes primarily not by way of his repentance, but by the presence of Jesus:

“And Jesus said toward him that ‘Today salvation has come to be in this house, according to (the fact) that he also is a son of Abraham!'”

I.e., Zacchaeus is a “son of Abraham”, like all other Israelites and Jews, and cannot be excluded simply because he is part an outcast element; and “salvation” has “come to be in this house” in the person of Jesus. This last point is implied within the subtext of the narrative:

    • Zaccheus takes/receives (Jesus) under [u(pede/cato]—under his roof, i.e. into his house (v. 6)
    • The onlookers mutter that Jesus has gone into (the house of a “sinner”) to “loose down” [i.e. stay] for the night (v. 7)
    • Salvation has come to be [e)ge/neto] in the house (v. 9)

This brings us to the Son of Man saying. In this instance, “son of man” seems to be a substitute for “I” as a self-reference—compare Lk 5:32, “I have not come to call just people, but sinners, into repentance”. It is also possible, that in the overall context of the narrative, the prior passion prediction (Lk 18:31-34) may still be in view; if so, then the “Son of Man” expression and self-identification may be intended to draw together two concepts: (1) Jesus’ call for people to follow/receive him, and (2) the suffering and death he will experience in Jerusalem. The encounter with Zaccheus is one of the last episodes set during Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem—he and his followers are about to enter the city, where the events of the Passion will unfold.

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