March 31: Mark 8:31 (continued)

Mark 8:31, continued

“…that it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s”

As discussed in the previous note, this first Passion-prediction by Jesus marks the beginning of the second half of the Synoptic Gospel narrative. The first main section of the second half of the narrative (the Judean/Jerusalem period) focused on the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. In the Gospel of Mark, this extends from the Passion-prediction in 8:31 to the end of chapter 10. The three Passion-predictions serve as a structuring framework for this section, with the three predictions spaced more or less an equal distance apart. The massive expansion of the Jerusalem journey section in Luke greatly distorts this literary structure; in the Lukan narrative there are nine full chapters between the second and third predictions (9:43b-44; 18:31-34).

The form of this first Passion-prediction is quite close between the Synoptic Gospels. This relative lack of variation suggests that the statement had been well-established and fixed within the Tradition, to the point that there was little opportunity (or reason) for the individual Gospel writers to adapt or modify the wording. There are four components to the prediction, four statements by Jesus regarding the things that will take place in Jerusalem. Our focus here is on the first statement, as Jesus tells his disciples that (o%ti)

“it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s”
dei= to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou polla\ paqei=n

The principal action that will take place is indicated by the verbal infinitive paqei=n (“to suffer“)—that is, there will be considerable suffering for Jesus in Jerusalem. The extent (and severity) of this suffering is suggested by the substantive adjective polla/ (“many [thing]s”).

On the surface, this prediction of suffering is completely at odds with Peter’s confession identifying Jesus as the “Anointed One” (presumably the royal Messiah of the Davidic Ruler figure-type). It was certainly not thought that the Davidic Messiah would experience intense suffering when he arrived in Jerusalem; rather, he was expected to subdue the nations and establish a new (Messianic) kingdom on earth, centered at Jerusalem. The context in Luke 17:20-21 and 19:11ff suggests that at some of Jesus’ followers and observers expected the establishment of this Messianic kingdom when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. The entire Triumphal Entry scene reflects this same expectation.

With regard to the Passion-prediction, there may be an intentional distinction being made (by Jesus) between the title “Anointed (One)” and “Son of Man”. Peter’s confession emphasizes Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah (who was to appear in victory and glory), while the Passion-prediction, emphasizing Jesus’ impending suffering, focuses on his identity as “Son of Man”.

I have discussed this title at length in earlier notes and articles. The expression “son of man” (Hebrew <d*a* /B#, ben-°¹d¹m), which occurs more than 100 times in the Old Testament, fundamentally refers to a human being. In ancient Semitic idiom, /B# ben (“son”) in the construct state (“son of…”) often has the meaning of belonging to a particular group or category, and of possessing such characteristics. In this instance, “son of man” simply means “a human being”, i.e. belonging to the human race. The parallel, synonymous expression vona$ /B# (ben °§nôš), “son of (hu)mankind” occurs once (Ps 144:3); the corresponding Aramaic is vn`a$ rB^ (bar °§n¹š), only at Dan 7:13 in the OT, along with the variant forms vn rb, avn rb (as well as <da rb) attested in later Aramaic. The Biblical (and contemporary) usage of the expression can be summarized as follows:

    1. Generally (or indefinitely) of a human being (“a[ny] man”), in poetic language—with <da /b (ben °¹d¹m, “son of man”) set parallel to <da (°¹d¹m, “man”), cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. The dual-expression (“man…son of man…”) often is set in contrast to God [YHWH] and His nature.
    2. In divine/heavenly address to a human being (a Prophet), in Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and Daniel (Dan 8:17). The sense is something like “(as for) you, O mortal…”, again distinguishing a human being from the divine/heavenly being who addresses him.
    3. The apparently unique instance of Daniel 7:13—here “son of man” is used to describe a divine/heavenly/angelic(?) being who resembles a human.

Primarily, then, the expression refers to the possession of human characteristics or qualities (especially mortality), often contrasted with a heavenly or divine being (including God [YHWH] himself). It is used frequently by Jesus, and we can be certain (on entirely objective grounds) that this usage is authentic and reflects Jesus’ actual manner of speaking/teaching. The expression “son of man” (in Greek, [o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou) is virtually non-existent in the New Testament outside of the Gospels. Moreover, every occurrence in the Gospels comes either from Jesus’ own lips or in response to his words (for the latter, cf. Lk 24:7; Jn 12:34). Outside of the Gospels it is only found in Acts 7:56 (as part of the Gospel tradition); Heb 2:8 (quoting Ps 8:4); and Rev 1:13; 14:14 (alluding to Dan 7:13, also 10:5, 16). It was only rarely used by early Christians as a title for Jesus, with other titles (“Son of God”, “Lord”, and “Christ/Messiah”) being far preferred.

There are two main categories of “Son of Man” sayings by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels—one of which relates to his Passion (suffering and death), and the other being eschatological (heavily influenced by Dan 7:13). The Passion-predictions, of course, belong to the first category. In virtually all of the “Son of Man” sayings, Jesus seems to be using the expression “son of man” as a self-reference—a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”. While the Aramaic expression did come to be used in this manner, there is little evidence for such customary usage before the time of Jesus.

There can be no doubt that “Son of Man” in the Passion-prediction is a self-reference by Jesus. In other words, for Jesus to say “it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer”, this is much as if he had said “it is necessary for me to suffer” (cf. the Matthean version of prediction, below). At the same time, “Son of Man” here also functions as a kind of title, especially insofar as the Passion-prediction represents a response to Peter’s confession identifying Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Messiah). While Jesus affirms Peter’s confession, he also, at the same time, points the disciples in a different direction, emphasizing his suffering as the “Son of Man”.

Even as there was no expectation of a “suffering Messiah” in Judaism at this time (for more on this, cf. my article in the series “Yeshua the Messiah”), so also there is no evidence for the idea of a “suffering Son of Man”. Conceivably, the idea could have developed from reflection on the famous ‘Suffering Servant’ passage in Isa 52:13-53:12, which early Christians did apply to Jesus’ suffering and death (Lk 22:37; Acts 3:13; 8:32-33, etc); but it hard to see how this passage would have related to the specific title “Son of Man”, prior to its application to Jesus.

In my view, a better explanation for Jesus’ usage here in the Passion-prediction involves the fundamental significance of the expression (cf. above)—as relating to the human condition, especially in its limitation, weakness, and mortality. By applying the title “Son of Man” to himself in the context of his Passion, Jesus is identifying with the human condition, particularly with regard to the experience of weakness, suffering and death. For an objective statement to this same effect, cf. the wording in the famous Christ-hymn in Philippians (2:6-11).

The use of the modal verbal form dei= (“it is necessary”) to introduce this announcement of the Son of Man’s suffering is also significant. It is relatively rare in the core Synoptic tradition, occurring only several times in the words of Jesus. The verb is more frequent in Luke, including several important instances in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, where the necessity of Jesus’ suffering is predicated upon the fact that it was prophesied in the Scriptures (22:37; 24:7, 44). This idea, however, was scarcely a Lukan invention; it reflects early Christian belief, and is stated equally clearly (by Jesus) in the Matthean Passion narrative (26:54). Indeed, it seems likely that the force of dei= in the Passion-prediction relates to the same prophetic mandate, and that this is how Jesus intended it to be understood.

As I noted above, the form of the Passion-prediction is relatively fixed within the Gospel Tradition. There are some notable differences, however. Matthew’s version (16:21) at the point we are examining here reads:

“…that it is necessary (for) him to go away into Yerushalaim and to suffer many (thing)s”

The italicized portion marks the variation from the (shorter) Markan version. Since the prediction is couched within the Synoptic narration, the Gospel writer has a bit more freedom to add explanatory detail, such as the phrase “go away into Jerusalem”, which also serves to emphasize the location where these events will take place (and the goal of the coming journey). Also noteworthy is the way that the author essentially explains the title/expression “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus (on which, cf. above).

Luke’s version (9:22) here, by contrast, is identical to Mark.

March 30: Mark 8:31

For the daily notes leading up to Holy Week, I will be presenting an in-depth exegetical and expository study of the Synoptic Passion-predictions by Jesus. These three predictions are part of the “Triple Tradition” —that is, sayings and narrative episodes found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels.

The starting point for this study will be the Gospel of Mark. That is to say, I will be focusing on the Gospel of Mark as representing the core Synoptic Tradition. It is the Markan version of the Passion predictions that will form the basis for these notes, to be supplemented by the significant variations and differences in the Matthean and Lukan versions.

Mark 8:31

The first of the Passion predictions occurs at Mark 8:31, immediately following the episode of Peter’s confession (8:27-30). In my view, this represents a clear transition point between the first and second halves of the Synoptic narrative. This division is best expressed in the Gospel of Mark, where the first half of the narrative (the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry) and the second half (the Judean/Jerusalem period) are roughly equal in length. This narrative structure has been distorted in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, effected by the inclusion of a significant amount of additional material. In particular, the journey to Jerusalem, covered by a single chapter in Mark (chap. 10), has been greatly expanded in Luke to the point where it effectively spans more than ten full chapters (9:51-19:27).

“And he began to teach them…”
Kai\ h&rcato dida/skein au)tou\$

The second half of the Markan Gospel begins with these words (8:31). It follows directly upon the climactic moment of the first half—the confession by Peter regarding the Messianic identity of Jesus (vv. 29-30):

“And he inquired of them, ‘But who do you count [i.e. consider] me to be?’ The Rock {Peter} gave forth (an answer): ‘You are the Anointed (One)’. And he laid a charge upon them, that they should recount [i.e. tell] (this) about him to no one.”

The entire Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry (i.e., the first half of the Synoptic narrative) has led to this dramatic moment—the revelation (by Peter) of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah (“Anointed [One]”). As I have discussed at length in prior notes and articles, in the Galilean period, Jesus’ Messianic identity relates primarily to the Prophetic figure-types: Moses, Elijah, and the Anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff (cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). However, by the time the Gospels were written, the specific title “Anointed (One)” (Xristo/$), as it is applied to Jesus, had come to be defined largely by the Davidic Ruler figure-type. And it is this figure-type—the royal Messiah from the line of David (cf. Parts 6-8 of “Yeshua the Anointed”)—that dominates the second half of the Synoptic narrative.

What precisely does Peter mean by the title in the original tradition (as expressed in Mk 8:29)? Most likely he would have in mind the Davidic Ruler figure-type; indeed, this would help to explain his reaction in v. 32. It was definitely not expected that a Messiah would suffer and die, and certainly not the Messianic Ruler of the kingdom that was to be established (on earth) in the New Age. The Lukan form (9:20) of Peter’s confession (a slightly expanded version) may be intended to convey a more precise identification with this royal figure-type: “(You are) the Anointed (One) of God” (to\n xristo\n tou= qeou=). This echoes the wording from the Infancy narrative (“the Anointed [One] of the Lord,” to\n xristo\n kuri/ou, 2:26), where  the royal/Davidic associations are abundantly clear. The Matthean form of the confession is even more expansive, reflecting, it seems, an attempt by the Gospel writer to expound the statement more squarely in terms of the early Christian understanding of Jesus’ identity: “You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God” (16:16; cp. the Johannine confession [by Martha] in 11:27).

“And he began to teach —This marks the beginning of the second half of the narrative. So also in the first half (the Galilean period), Jesus’ ministry begins with teaching, as summarized by three traditional components:

    • His proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mk 1:14-15 par)
    • His call of the first disciples (lit. “learners,” those whom he would teach, Mk 1:16-20 par)
    • His practice of teaching in the Synagogues of Galilee (Mk 1:21ff par; cp. Lk 4:14-16ff)

Now, however, his teaching (vb dida/skw) is directed at his close disciples, and the message deals specifically with his impending suffering and death in Jerusalem. In the context of the Gospel narrative, it must also be seen as a response to Peter’s confession. Indeed, he is the Anointed One of God, but this is not to be manifested in the way that Peter and the disciples (and other Jews of the time) would have anticipated. The Davidic Messiah was expected to subdue and judge the nations, not to suffer and die at their hands. Peter’s reaction in verse 32f demonstrates rather clearly how incongruous this idea was in terms of the Messianic expectation. Jesus’ teaching is meant to prepare his disciples for the fact that his Messianic identity (as the coming Davidic Ruler) would be realized in a very different way.

The Matthean version (at 16:21) generally follows Mark at this point, and essentially preserves the dividing line between the two ‘halves’ of the Gospel narrative. The wording does, however, differ slightly:

“From then (on), Yeshua began to show [vb deiknu/w] to his learners [i.e. disciples]…”

Luke, by contrast, has blurred this division, making the Passion prediction (syntactically) part of the same tradition-unit as Peter’s confession:

“…'(You are) the Anointed (One) of God.’ And, laying a charge upon them, he gave along (the) message (that they are) to recount (this) to no one, saying that ‘It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s…’ ” (9:20-22)

In the next note, we will begin examining the Passion prediction itself.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Moses and Elijah, Part 2

Moses and Elijah (Part 2)

The Transfiguration Episode (Lk 9:28-36 par)

As I argued at the conclusion of Part 1, the Transfiguration scene, within the context of the Synoptic narrative, is set at the conclusion of the Galilean period and marks the beginning of the Judean period (the second half of the narrative). The second half of the Gospel narrative, I would maintain, properly opens with the first Passion prediction by Jesus (Mk 8:31 par), but the Transfiguration is the first major episode. It holds roughly the same place as the Baptism scene does in the first half of the narrative. Clearly there is an intentional (literary) parallel intended between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes. In particular, the Voice from heaven makes a declaration that matches (or nearly matches) the heavenly declaration at the Baptism (Mk 1:11 par); indeed, in Matthew’s version, the two utterances are identical.

It is clear from the position of the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic narrative, that it marks the conclusion of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and the beginning of his Passion—the upcoming journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10; Lk 9:5118:34), and the events which would take place there. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration brings out this aspect more clearly (cf. below).

The presence of Moses and Elijah

Central to the Transfiguration scene is the presence of Moses and Elijah, who appear alongside of Jesus (Mk 9:4-5 par). It has been popular to interpret the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene as representing “the Law and the Prophets” which Jesus was fulfilling (Matt 5:17; Lk 16:16; 24:27, 44; Jn 1:45, etc). However, this does not seem to be correct. To begin with, Elijah is an odd choice to represent the Prophetic Scriptures (Isaiah would make more sense, cf. Jn 12:39-41). More importantly, Moses and Elijah each represent distinct Prophet-figures; and, in the original context of the Gospels, it is almost certain that Jesus, in the period of his Galilean ministry especially, was also seen as an Anointed Prophet.

That Jesus was seen as a Messiah of the Prophet figure-type seems clear enough from the Baptism scene, attested by different strands of tradition (Mk 1:7-8 par; Lk 3:15ff; 4:14-30; Jn 1:19-27), as well as the entirety of the period of his Galilean ministry, according to the Synoptic narrative. Principally, he fulfilled the role of Spirit-endowed, miracle working Prophet (like Elijah), identified more specifically with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. For more on this, see the previous articles in this series, along with Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

I would suggest that in the Transfiguration scene the significance of Moses and Elijah is two-fold:

    1. It identifies Jesus as a Messianic Prophet (like Moses and Elijah), marking the conclusion of his Galilean ministry in which this role was primarily being fulfilled, but also pointing to his eschatological role inaugurating a new era for the people of God. It is no coincidence that, in Jewish tradition by the time of Jesus, Moses and Elijah were seen as prophetic figures who would appear at the end-time, as a fulfillment of specific prophecies (Deut 18:15-20; Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6).
    2. Moses and Elijah each experienced a theophany—manifestation of God’s presence—upon the holy mountain (Sinai/Horeb); similarly, Jesus (and his disciples) on this mountain experience the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence and the divine Voice from heaven. This theophany, in relation to Jesus, is of a different sort, reflecting his divine Sonship.
Jesus and Moses: Luke 9:28-36

Luke’s version of the Transfiguration scene (9:28-36) contains a number of important details which emphasize the association of Jesus with Moses (and the Moses/Exodus traditions). These will be discussed here in turn.

“after…eight days” (v. 28)—Luke curiously dates the Transfiguration episode differently than in Mark-Matthew (“after six days”). One can only guess at the reasons for this, but it is possible that an allusion to the time-frame of the festival of Booths (Sukkot) is intended (Lev 23:35-36, and cf. below).

he stepped up into/onto the mountain” (v. 28)—The mountain location of the Transfiguration fills the type-pattern of mount Sinai as the setting of the Sinai Theophany—the mountain Moses ascended to meet YHWH. This association is part of the core tradition; however, Luke’s wording here (“he stepped up into/onto the mountain,” a)ne/bh ei)$ to\ o&ro$) precisely matches the LXX of Exod 19:3.

“the visible (form) of his face (became) different” (v. 29)—The change in Jesus’ appearance is central to the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:3); all three Gospels mention Jesus’ clothing becoming unusually bright/white, however Matthew and Luke specifically mention the shining of Jesus’ face. Luke emphasizes the transformation of Jesus’ face, stating that its visible appearance (ei@do$) became different (“other,” e%tero$). It is likely that this alludes to the tradition of the transformation of Moses’ face (Exod 34:29ff), even though the wording differs from the description(s) in Exodus.

“…who were being seen in splendor [do/ca]” (v. 31)—Luke adds the detail that Moses and Elijah appeared “in glory/splendor”. This can be taken as further emphasis on the tradition of the divine glory/splendor (do/ca) that was reflected on Moses’ face (Exod 34:30-35). Here it is extended to the figure of Elijah, so that all three figures—Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah—shine with heavenly/divine glory.

“…his way out [e&codo$]” (v. 31)—In the core tradition, Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah; however, only Luke provides information about the subject of their discussion. According to Luke’s version, the three spoke specifically about “his [i.e. Jesus’] way out, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem”. The expression “way out” is a literal translation of the noun e&codo$ (éxodus), which almost certainly stands as an allusion to the Exodus. If so, then Jesus effectively fulfills the role of Moses in leading the way for a “new Exodus”. It must be emphasized, however, that here the “exodus” refers specifically to Jesus’ “way out” of his life on earth—that is, his impending death (and resurrection) in Jerusalem.

“they saw his splendor/glory [do/ca]” (v. 32)—Only Luke includes the detail that the awakening disciples “saw the splendor/glory” of Jesus. In all likelihood, this again reflects the Moses tradition in Exod 34:29-35, where the people see the glory on Moses’ face. The wording here resembles the declaration in the Johannine Prologue (1:14ff), which also alludes the same Exodus traditions and contains a comparison between Jesus and Moses.

“we should make tents” (v. 33)—The declaration by Peter is part of the core tradition, which may contain an echo of the festival of Booths (Sukkot), as recorded in the Law of Moses (and which is part of the Moses/Exodus traditions, Lev 23:33-43; Neh 8:14-17; cf. also Exod 23:14-19; 34:22-24; Num 29:12-38; Deut 16:16-17; 31:9-13). As noted above, the specific dating of the Transfiguration in Luke (v. 28) may be intended to bring out this association.

“a cloud came to be and it cast shade upon them” (v. 34)—The overshadowing cloud is part of the core tradition, and almost certainly alludes to the Sinai Theophany (Exod 19:9ff; 24:15-18), though the theophanous Cloud, representing the manifest presence of YHWH, features throughout the Exodus narratives (Exod 16:10; 40:34, etc).

“…going into the cloud” (v. 34)—Only in Luke’s version do the disciples enter the cloud (with Jesus). This clearly echoes the scene at the Sinai theophany, where Moses enters the cloud of God’s glorious presence (Exod 24:18; cf. also 33:9). At the same time, this represents a shift in the significance of the two episodes, whereby access to the manifest presence of God is no long limited to the chosen representative (Moses/Jesus), but is opened up to (all) the faithful ones among God’s people.

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. chosen]” (v. 35)—The declaration by the heavenly Voice closely parallels that of the Baptism scene (in Matthew the two are identical). In the previous article on Isa 42:1ff, I discussed how the Baptism declaration likely alludes to this passage, and the same applies here in the Transfiguration scene. The Lukan form of the declaration, including the descriptive (substantive) participle o( e)klelegme/no$ (“the [one] having been gathered out”), more closely matches Isa 42:1 than that in Mark-Matthew.

In the aforementioned article, I also discuss how the “servant” of Isa 42:1ff can be interpreted as an inspired prophetic leader who follows in the pattern of Moses. That is to say, he functions as a “new Moses” who will lead the people of God in a “new Exodus” out of their time in Exile. It seems likely that the Transfiguration scene follows the line of interpretation that identifies Jesus as the “prophet like Moses” who is to come—that is, the Messianic prophet according to the figure-type of Moses (cf. above and Part 3 of “Yeshua the Anointed”).

“you must hear [i.e. listen to] him” (v. 35)—This directive, part of the heavenly declaration in the core tradition, almost certainly alludes to Deuteronomy 18:15, and the need for God’s people to hear/obey the words of the “prophet like Moses” who is to come. The implication, again, is that Jesus is to be identified with this Messianic prophet figure, even as his (more directly) in Acts 3:22; 7:37. The Lukan word order here is closer to the LXX of Deut 18:15 than is that of Mark-Matthew.

The transitional character of the Transfiguration scene is indicated by the way that Moses and Elijah vanish, leaving Jesus alone on the mountain. Their departure clears the way for the identification of Jesus with other Messianic figure types—most notably, the Davidic royal Messiah, as well as the heavenly “Son of Man” figure. Even more significant, from the standpoint of early Christian theology, is the heavenly declaration that affirms Jesus’ status as God’s Son. There can be no doubt that this episode marks Jesus as being superior to the prophetic figures of Moses and Elijah; however, it is important to realize that this superiority is expressed in the context of the Old Testament tradition.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Moses and Elijah, Part 1

Moses and Elijah (Part 1)

The figures of Moses and Elijah are central to the Gospel narrative, and to the Messianic identity of Jesus, particularly in the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry which forms the first half of the Synoptic Narrative. Moses and Elijah were important prophetic figures in Israel’s history (and in Old Testament tradition), and, through the key Scriptures of Deut 18:15-19 and Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6, came to be regarded as figure-types for the Messianic Prophet who was expected to appear at the end-time (prior to the great Judgment). For more on this subject, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Jesus was identified with both the Moses and Elijah figure-types, as I discuss in the aforementioned article. This can be seen at various points throughout the early Gospel tradition, associated with the Galilean ministry of Jesus as recorded (especially) in the Synoptic narrative. However, there are two episodes from this Galilean period where the Old Testament associations particularly stand out:

    1. The Miraculous Feeding episode, and
    2. The Transfiguration scene

Part 1 of this article will deal with the Miraculous Feeding  episode, while Part 2 will examine the Transfiguration scene.

The Miraculous Feeding Episode (Mark 6:30-44 par)

This episode makes for a fascinating test case in New Testament criticism. Not only do we have the three Synoptic versions (Triple-Tradition), along with a parallel version in the Gospel of John, but there is the second Feeding miracle (of the 4,000), nearly identical in its basic outline (to that of the 5,000), preserved in Mark and Matthew (Mk 8:1-10) par. It is not the place here to go into the many critical questions regarding the relationship between these versions; in any case, I have discussed the matter at considerable length elsewhere (cf. especially the articles in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). In this particular study, I will be focusing on influence of the Old Testament on the Miraculous Feeding scene as it has been recorded in the Gospels.

As it happens, there are no direct citations or quotations of Scripture in the Feeding episode (in any of the versions); instead, we find a number of subtle, but significant, allusions to Old Testament traditions that have helped to shape the narrative. Three strands of tradition may be isolated, each of which relates, in certain ways, to the figures of Moses and Elijah:

    • The phrase “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34 par)
    • Allusions to the Elisha tradition of 2 Kings 4:42-44
    • The Moses/Exodus traditions of the Passover and Manna, esp. as developed by Jesus in the Johannine discourse that follows the miraculous feeding
“Sheep without a shepherd” (Num 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Mk 6:34 par)

In the Synoptic (Markan) version of the feeding of the 5,000, we find the following narrative description:

“And coming out (of the boat), he [i.e. Jesus] saw (the) throng (of) many (people), and he was moved in (his) inner parts upon them, (in) that [i.e. because] they were as sheep not having [i.e. without] any herder, and he began to teach them many (thing)s.” (6:34)

Neither Matthew nor Luke contain the specific allusion to the people “as sheep without a shepherd”, though they include the detail of Jesus’ compassion for them, as well as the mention of his teaching and the healing miracles he performed. Conceivably, Mark has added the sheep/shepherd reference to the core Synoptic tradition, which would explain why Matthew and Luke do not have it in their version; nor is it part of the second Feeding (of the 4,000) narrative.

However it came to be included in the Markan version of the episode, its significance relates to the apparent allusion to Numbers 27:17, as descriptive of Joshua, the Spirit-endowed leader who follows Moses as guide (i.e., ‘shepherd’) for the people (vv. 12-23). Joshua stands in relation to Moses, much as Elisha does to Elijah (cf. below), with both receiving an ‘anointing’ of the same divine, prophetic Spirit that their predecessor possessed. Here is how the matter is described in Num 27:16-17:

“May YHWH, Mightiest (One) [i.e. God] of (the) spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who will go out before them and who will come (in) before them, who will bring them out and who will bring them (in), and (then) the assembly of YHWH will not be like a flock (of sheep) which does not (have) for them (one) giving pasture [i.e. a shepherd/herdsman].”

The allusion in Mk 6:34 indicates that Jesus is to be regarded, like Joshua (the two names being essentially identical), as the Spirit-empowered successor to Moses. It is Jesus who will lead and guide the people of God. Indeed, like Moses himself, Jesus serves as God’s chosen (= anointed) representative who miraculously provides food for the multitude as they sojourn in the desolate land.

The motif from Numbers 27:17 is repeated in 1 Kings 22:17, part of the Micaiah scene in chapter 22. The sheep/shepherd idiom is used there in a negative sense: because of the wickedness of the king (Ahab) and the many ‘false prophets’, the people of Israel truly are like sheep without a proper shepherd. While the prophetic significance of this Old Testament episode cannot be disregarded, it is only loosely related to the Elijah/Elisha traditions. Almost certainly, it is Num 27:17 that is being referenced in the Markan version of the Miraculous Feeding scene.

The Elisha tradition in 2 Kings 4:42-44

As nearly every New Testament commentator recognizes, the basic action of the Miraculous Feeding episode reflects, to some extent, the scene in 2 Kings 4:42-44. The way that the two narratives relate can be traced rather simply by comparing the relevant detail:

    • A man brings loaves of bread to Elisha (v. 42)
      / The disciples bring loaves to Jesus (Mk 6:37f, 41 par)
    • Elisha tells him to give the bread to the people to eat (v. 42)
      / Jesus tells the disciples to give the people food to eat (Mk 6:37a par)
    • The servant asks how he can give the bread to so many men (v. 43a)
      / The disciples ask how they are able to obtain food for so many people (Mk 6:37b par)
    • A repeated directive to bring/obtain loaves of bread (v. 43b; Mk 6:38 par)
    • All of the people eat and there is still some left over (vv. 43b-44a; Mk 6:42-43 par)
    • This is done/accomplished “according to the word of YHWH”, as expressed by the prophet Elisha (v. 44)
      / The miracle takes place according to the command of Jesus, accompanied by his word of blessing/consecration (Mk 6:39, 41)

These parallels make abundantly clear that Jesus is acting as an inspired Prophet, in the pattern of Elijah (and his disciple Elisha). Elijah was the great miracle-working prophet in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the mighty deeds and wonders taking place, by the power of God, through special prophetic Spirit that was upon him. Elisha, his disciple and appointed successor, would receive this same Spirit (2 Kings 2:9-10ff), even as Joshua inherits the Spirit-endowed mantle of leadership from Moses (cf. above, and note the more specific prophetic parallel in Num 11:16-17ff).

As I discuss in the previous article, by the 1st century B.C./A.D., the Spirit-inspired Herald of Isa 61:1ff had come to be associated with the (Messianic) figure-type of Elijah. This can be seen both in the Gospel Tradition (Lk 4:17-19ff and 7:18-22 par) and in the Qumran text 4Q521. The specific points of emphasis in the Nazareth episode of Lk 4:16-30 are again worth noting:

    • Jesus specifically identifies himself with the prophet/herald who is “anointed by the Spirit”, a prophetic detail that was fulfilled at the Baptism, and with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (3:22; 4:1, 14-15ff)
    • He again identifies himself as a prophet in the proverbial saying of 4:24 par
    • The Scripture examples he cites (vv. 25-27) are from the Elijah and Elisha narratives
    • Elisha was the only Old Testament prophet specifically said to have been anointed (cf. 1 Kings 19:16), in a manner that seems to have been primarily figurative, referring to the divine/prophetic Spirit that comes upon him
The Moses/Exodus Traditions

The allusion to Num 27:17 in Mk 6:34 (cf. above) suggests that Jesus is fulfilling the role of Moses, as the Spirit-empowered leader of the people, who guides them on their journey in the desolate land. The setting of the Miraculous Feeding episode fits this traditional paradigm, with: (a) the large crowd of people, (b) the desolate locale (Mk 6:35 par), and (c) the difficulty in finding food to eat. All of this naturally brings to mind Moses’ role as intermediary between God (YHWH) and the people, especially with regard to the miraculous feeding episodes recorded in the Exodus narratives. The prime narrative is in Exodus 16, where, according to Moses’ prophetic announcement, God brings down meat (quail) and bread (‘manna’) from the sky to feed the people.

There is only the faintest allusion to the manna-tradition in the Gospel narrative. However, it takes on more prominence in the Johannine version of the Miraculous Feeding (6:1-14). In at least two small details, John’s version emphasizes the association with Moses, rather than Elijah. The first is the reference to the time of the Passover festival (v. 4), a detail found only in John’s version, though the mention of green grass (Mk 6:39 par) suggests that the episode may have taken place in the Springtime.

The second significant detail comes at the conclusion of the narrative (v. 14), where people respond to the miracle by declaring that “this is truly the Prophet, the (one) coming into the world!” This demonstrates the popular expectation of a Messianic Prophet, which, most commonly, was conceived according to one of two prophetic figure-types: Moses and Elijah, respectively (cf. again Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The title “the Prophet” is more likely to be a reference to the Moses figure-type (Deut 18:15-19), while the descriptive title “the (one who is) coming” (Grk o( e)rxo/meno$) better fits the Elijah type (cf. Mal 3:1ff, 4:5-6, and my earlier note on the subject). Given the Moses/Passover theme that runs through John 6, it seems probable that “the Prophet” is the “Prophet like Moses”.

In the great “Bread of Life” discourse that follows the Miraculous Feeding episode in the Gospel of John (6:22-59ff), the miraculous division of the bread-loaves is expounded in terms of the Moses/Exodus tradition of the manna—as “bread coming down from heaven”. This line of interpretation by Jesus is introduced in the discourse at verse 31:

“Our fathers ate the manna in the desolate (land), even as it has been written: ‘Bread out of heaven He gave them to eat’.”

The Scripture citation corresponds most directly to Psalm 78:24, but certainly refers to the main historical tradition in Exodus 16:4, 15 (cf. also Wisdom 16:20). As Jesus continues with this line of exposition, he brings up the (comparative) parallel with the figure of Moses:

“Amen, amen, I say to you: (it was) not Moses (who) has given you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.” (v. 32)

Two different points of contrast are at work in this statement:

    • It was not Moses who gave the bread, but God (YHWH) Himself
    • The manna was not the true “bread out of heaven”

Then Jesus goes a step further, identifying this “true bread” as a person who comes down from heaven:

“For the bread of God is the (one) stepping down out of heaven and giving life to the world.” (v. 33)

The remainder of the discourse (vv. 35ff) builds upon this idea, as Jesus, in response to the request by the people in v. 34 (reflecting their misunderstanding), declares:

“I am the Bread of Life…” (v. 35)

Jesus is himself the true “bread from heaven”, which God gives to His people (believers) in the world. The Moses/Manna theme is reiterated at several points throughout the discourse (cf. especially vv. 46, 49ff), but is very much central to the overall “Bread of Life” image. The allusions to Jesus’ death (vv. 33, 38, 50-51, and the eucharistic language in vv. 52-58) tie the imagery back to the Passover setting of the miracle (v. 4), since the death of Jesus took place at Passover, fulfilling the figure-type of the Passover sacrifice (cf. 1:29, 36; 2:18-23; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14, [29], 31-33, 36).

Conclusion: The Context of the Synoptic Narrative

To gain a full appreciation of the significance of the Miraculous Feeding episode as an expression of the Messianic identity of Jesus, we must consider carefully the place of this episode within the Synoptic narrative framework. In particular, the two Feeding miracles (in Mark and Matthew) are key to the shaping of this framework. I have outlined the Markan structure in earlier notes and articles, but it is worth presenting again here:

    • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the declaration by Herod—6:14-16 [inclusion of an associated tradition, 6:17-29]
    • Feeding Miracle (5,000): the disciples/12 baskets—6:30-44 Miracle on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—6:44-52 (they did not understand about the miraculous loaves)
    • Healing Miracles6:53-56
    • Conflict/debate with religious authorities over tradition and ritual—7:1-23 including a Parable and explanation by Jesus (vv. 14-16, 17-23)
    • Healing Miracles: 2 episodes—7:24-30, 31-37
    • Feeding Miracle (4,000): the disciples/7 baskets—8:1-10 Teaching on the water: Jesus with the disciples in the boat—8:11-21 (they did not understand, re. the miraculous loaves)
    • Healing miracle—8:22-26
    • Reaction to Jesus, and his identity: the confession by Peter—8:27-30

In my view there is a definite (chiastic) symmetry to this section in Mark. Consider first—the framing episodes (6:14-16; 8:27-30) involving the question of Jesus’ identity, in which the general reaction by people to Jesus is noted (i.e. identifying him as “Elijah” or one of the Prophets). At the same time, Herod and Peter each make a declaration regarding Jesus’ identity:

    • Herod—he is John the Baptist raised from the dead (6:16)
    • Peter—”You are the Anointed One” (8:29)

The second pair of (parallel) episodes are the two Feeding Miracles:

    • Reaction to Jesus (declaration by Herod)
      Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:30-44)
      Feeding of the Four Thousand (8:1-10)
    • Reaction to Jesus (confession by Peter)

The parallelism is reinforced by the inclusion, after the miracle, of an episode where Jesus and his disciples are together on the water (6:44-52; 8:11-21), and reference is made to the bread-loaves of the miraculous feeding (6:52; 8:19ff). The first episode involves a miracle (Jesus’ walking on the water), the second, teaching. A third parallel can be found in the healing miracles of 6:53-56 and 7:24-37:

    • Reaction to Jesus (declaration by Herod)
      • Feeding of the Five Thousand
        —Healing miracles narrated (6:53-56)
        —Healing miracles: 2 episodes (7:24-37)
      • Feeding of the Four Thousand
    • Reaction to Jesus (confession by Peter)

Finally, at the center of the section, we find the debate between Jesus and the religious authorities (Scribes and Pharisees) regarding religious tradition and the interpretation of the Law (7:1-23). This theme carries through the remainder of the section, especially the instruction of Jesus to his disciples in 8:11-21, in which he warns them of “the leaven of the Pharisees [7:1ff] and Herod [6:14-16ff]” (v. 15). It is part of the reaction to Jesus’ ministry that is illustrated in this section. While the people may react to Jesus at one level—viewing him as a miracle working prophet like Elijah (cf. above), or otherwise—his true disciples ultimately will recognize him as “the Anointed One” (and Son of God).

Thus we can see that the two Feeding Miracle episodes play a pivotal role in the Markan narrative, and are important in demonstrating Jesus’ identity—the primary theme of 6:14-8:30.

Luke’s Gospel has a somewhat different structure, due to the fact that the author omits (or otherwise does not include) all of the Synoptic material in Mk 6:45-8:26 par. The single Miraculous Feeding (of the 5,000) thus is more clearly rooted in the concluding portion of the Galilean narrative:

    • The Mission of the Twelve (9:1-6)
    • The Reaction of Herod (9:7-9)
    • The Miraculous Feeding (9:10-17)
    • The Reaction (Confession) of Peter (9:18-20)

Peter’s confession essentially brings the first half of the Synoptic narrative (the Galilean ministry period) to a close. The Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-8 par) may be viewed as transitional, or as the beginning episode in the second half of the Gospel (the Judean period), preceding as it does Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (chap. 10). The journey section is framed by the three Passion predictions by Jesus, and so it is perhaps best to view the second half of the Synoptic narrative as starting with the first Passion prediction (Mk 8:31 par).

In any event, the Transfiguration scene is transitional in the sense that it completes the identification of Jesus as the prophetic Messiah, and prepares the way for his identification as the royal Messiah (from the line of David), which is the Messianic figure-type that comes to dominate the second half of the Gospel. In order to see how the associations with Moses and Elijah truly function within the Synoptic narrative, it is necessary for us to turn to this key episode of the Transfiguration, in Part 2.


Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 41 (Part 2)

Psalm 41, continued

The first part of the Psalm (vv. 2-5 [1-4]) is a prayer to YHWH with strong Wisdom features (cf. the previous study). It focuses on the righteous, and climaxes with a personal plea (by the Psalmist) for healing and deliverance.  The second part (vv. 6-13 [5-12]) deals with the attacks by the wicked against the righteous, retaining the central theme-setting of the first part: the experience of illness by the righteous.

Verses 6-13 [5-12]

Verse 6 [5]

“(The one)s hostile to me say evil against me:
‘When will he die and his name be lost (forever)?'”

The Psalmist’s enemies (<yb!y+oa, lit. ones being hostile [to him]) respond to him in his illness. The preposition l= is best understood here in the sense of “against”, though this is normally expressed through lu^. These people say evil (things) regarding the Psalmist’s condition. They are eagerly awaiting his death, though it is not clear just why they are so antagonistic toward him; it is typically of the conflict between the righteous and wicked generally—the wicked seek the harm (including the death and demise) of the righteous. It is not only the Psalmist’s own life that is involved; the wicked seek the obliteration of his entire reputation and posterity (lit. “name”, <v@), including that of his family and any children who would follow him.

Verse 7 [6]

“And if (such a one) comes to see (me),
he speaks emptiness (from) his heart,
(and) gathers (up) trouble to him(self)
(then) goes forth outside (and) speaks (it).”

Verse 6 [5] was a 4-beat (4+4) couplet, while here in v. 7 [6] we have pair of 3-beat (3+3) couplets, though the rhythm is relatively loose. The action of the wicked is described, expounding the basic idea expressed in the initial verse. The first couplet here sets the scene: one of the Psalmist’s enemies comes to see him (while he is ill and suffering), apparently feigning friendship; but what the man says in false friendship is actually “emptiness” (aw+v*), in terms of what is truly in his heart. Indeed, while he speaks emptiness (pretending to friendship), this person is busy “gathering up” (vb Jb^q*) trouble (/w#a*). It would seem that the true purpose of the enemy’s visit is not to see the suffering protagonist (as a friend), but to see the nature and extent of his condition (i.e., the illness), so that it can be used to make trouble. This “trouble” takes the form of a gossiping slander that the wicked person spreads about once he gets outside (JWjl^).

Verse 8 [7]

“(As) one, they (all) whisper about me,
all (the one)s hating me plan evil for me.”

The meter of this verse would seem to require omitting the second yl^u* (“against me”) as a duplication (cf. Dahood, p. 251 for a different solution). The result is a 3-beat couplet (if loosely so). The verse picks up on the idea from the end of the previous line. The wicked are gossiping (lit. “whispering”, vb vj^l*) about the Psalmist’s condition. This reflects their hatred for him—that is, of the wicked for the righteous—with the verbal noun “(one)s hating” (<ya!n+v)) more or less synonymous with “(one)s being hostile” (<yb!y+oa), i.e., “enemies”. The preposition l=, translated as “for” above, can also be understood in the sense of “against”, as in v. 6 [5] (cf. above).

Verse 9 [8]

“‘(May) a word of destruction be poured in(to) him,’
and ‘(may he) who lies (there) not be (able) to stand again!'”

The couplet in verse 9 [8] is best understood as an expression of the hatred (for the Psalmist) by his enemies. The evil that they plan for him (v. 8 [7]) is meant for his destruction and death. The “word of destruction” (lu^Y~l!B-rb^D=) is conceived of as a lethal poison which (it is hoped by them) will finish off the Psalmist. That they wish for his death is clear from the second line. Their evil hope is that the illness which has the Psalmist laying bed-ridden will become fatal, so that he will never rise up again.

Verse 10 [9]

“Even (the) man of my bond, in whom I trusted,
(the one) eating my bread, has twisted (the) heel upon me!”

This couplet seems to build upon the idea that at least one of the Psalmist’s enemies had pretended to be his friend (cf. the first couplet of v. 7 [6] above). Here this person is called “man of my <olv*,” an expression that is extremely difficult to translate literally in English. The noun <olv* has the fundamental meaning of “wholeness, fullness, completion”, often in the specific context of a binding agreement (covenant). That is to say, it reflects the idea of an agreement that has been completed, so that the two parties have a bond that gives to them mutual security, protection, etc. The Psalmist thought he had such a bond (of friendship and loyalty) with this person; they ate together at the same table, and so forth. And yet, as it turns out, this would-be friend has “twisted the heel” upon him. This idiom of ‘giving someone the heel’ especially connotes slandering or maligning a person (cf. Dahood, pp. 251-2).

This verse was famously interpreted by early Christians as applying to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas (cf. the citation in John 13:18).

Verse 11 [10]

“But you, YHWH, (may you) show favor to me,
and make me stand (up), and I will complete (this) for them!”

The Psalmist now prays to YHWH, asking for God to “show favor” (vb /n~j*) to him, healing him from his illness (“make me stand up”). The verb <l^v* involves a bit of wordplay, with the noun <olv* in the previous verse. In terms of the covenant context, we should understand the verb here in the sense of “making good on the bond that has been broken”, or, we might say, of completing the broken bond by paying the betrayers back (with punishment). This draws on the more general idea of God punishing the wicked—and of prayers by the righteous to that effect. Part of this punishment involves the shame and humiliation his enemies will experience when their evil plans and hopes (for his death) are thwarted.

Verse 12 [11]

“By this will I know that you find delight in me:
(that the one) hostile to me will not make a shout over me.”

If YHWH heals the Psalmist, and so thwarts the evil plans and desires of his enemies, then he will truly know that God takes delight (vb Jp^j*) in him. The “shout” (i.e., a ringing cry [u^Wr] of triumph) that the hostile ones (enemies) would have made “over” (lu^) the Psalmist, conjures up the image of victorious soldiers celebrating over a dead body.

Verse 13 [12]

“And I, in my wholeness, may you take hold of me,
and stand me (upright) to your face (in)to (the) distant (future)!”

The noun <T) (“completeness, wholeness”) here has a double meaning. Through the healing provided by YHWH, the Psalmist will be made whole again; at the same time, this healing also reflects the Psalmist’s own righteousness and loyalty to YHWH. The prayer here is that this completeness (both in the physical and moral/religious sense) be preserved from now on. This is expressed through the verb bx^n` (in the Hiphil causative stem), referring to the act of making something to stand upright, fixing it in position. The Psalmist asks (and hopes) that YHWH will place him right in front of Him, before His face. This location in God’s very presence implies a blessed afterlife in heaven, a condition than will last “into the distant (future)” (<l*oul=).

Verse 14 [13]

“Blessed be YHWH, Mighty (One) of Yisrael,
from the distant (past) and until the distant (future)—
surely (it is so), and (may it) surely (be so).”

The final verse of the Psalm (14 [13]) takes the form of a closing benediction, of the sort that may well have been applied to the poem secondarily. It very much reflects a general Israelite (Yahwist) piety, affirming YHWH as the God (Mightiest [One], Elohim)—that is, the one and only true God—of Israel. I have tried to capture the fundamental meaning of /m@a* (°¹m¢n) in the final line (“surely, certainly),” through a glossed translation, rather than simply transliterating it in English as “amen”.

References above (and throughout these studies) marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 16 (1965).

Saturday Series: Mark 14:3-9 par

The Anointing of Jesus (Mark 14:3-9 par)

In our recent studies, we have seen how the Gospels—and the Synoptic Gospels, in particular—hold a special place in regard to New Testament Criticism. The Synoptics contain many passages which are clearly based on a common Tradition, and yet have been developed and modified by each Gospel writer in a variety of interesting ways. This is most evidence for passages which belong to the “Triple Tradition” —that is, traditions which are found in all three Synoptic Gospels. On occasion, we also find a Johannine parallel to the Synoptic episode—as in the case of the Miraculous Feeding episode. Another such instance is the Anointing scene.

The scene of the Anointing of Jesus (by a woman) is the first episode in the Synoptic Passion Narrative, as represented by the Gospel of Mark (14:3-9). The version in Matthew (26:6-13) follows Mark closely, while those in Luke (7:36-50) and John (12:1-8) contain significant differences. This has caused commentators to question whether we are dealing with one, two, or even three distinct historical traditions (and events). Only the scene in Mark/Matthew is part of the Passion Narrative proper, set after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Even though John’s version is located prior to the Jerusalem entry, it still evinces a connection with the death/burial of Jesus that must have been part of the tradition from an early point.

The many points of difference between Luke’s account and the Synoptic scene in Mark/Matthew, may seem to leave little doubt that at least two separate historical traditions are involved. However, the Anointing Scene in all four Gospels follows the same basic narrative outline:

    • Jesus is dining (as a guest) in a particular house, and his he is reclining at the table
    • A women enters, or is present, who anoints Jesus with perfume
    • Others who are present react negatively to this
    • Jesus rebukes them for this reaction, and
    • He speaks on behalf of the woman, in support of her, etc

This common outline has convinced a number of scholars that ultimately we are dealing with multiple versions of the same historical tradition. It may be worth recalling that there were similar questions related to the Miraculous Feeding episode(s) (discussed in a previous study), as well as the scene of Jesus at Nazareth (see the earlier study).

It seems clear to me that the versions of the Anointing scene in Mark-Matthew and in John, at the very least, do reflect the same historical tradition (in spite of the minor difference in location within the narrative). For this reason, those three versions will be treated together in this study, leaving the Lukan version to be examined in next week’s study. We begin with the Anointing scene as it is found in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:3-9

This episode, the first in the Passion Narrative, follows the narrative introduction in vv. 1-2. This brief notice contains two primary elements which run thematically through the narrative: (1) the Passover setting, and (2) the plans to arrest Jesus and put him to death. Mark sets the second element within the first, enveloping it:

    • “It was the festival of Pesah (Passover) and the Unleavened Bread after [i.e. in] two days” — “The chief sacred officials [i.e. Priests] and writers [i.e. Scribes] searched (out) how, grabbing hold of him in a (cunning) trap (right away), they might kill him off”
    • “For they said, ‘Not on the festival (day), (so) there will not be any clamor of [i.e. from] the people'”

The idea clearly is that the religious authorities wish to arrest and deal with Jesus prior to the day of Passover itself.

The narrative of the Anointing scene is generally simple and straightforward; it may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative introduction/setting—the action of the woman (v. 3)
    • The reaction of those present (vv. 4-5)
    • Jesus’ response (vv. 6-9), including a climactic saying

This basic outline is common to many traditional narratives in the Synoptics, especially those which depict Jesus in dispute/conflict with religious authorities (on questions of Law and other beliefs)—cf. Mark 2:1-3:6 par, etc. It is worth noting that neither the woman nor those who respond negatively to her are identified. In this respect, Mark most likely preserves the earlier form of the tradition (compared with Matthew [cf. below] and John). Jesus’ response is comprised of four sayings or parts:

    • V. 6— “Leave her (alone)! (for) what [i.e. why] do you hold [i.e. bring] along trouble for her? It is a fine work she has worked on me.”
    • V. 7— “The poor you have with you always…but you do not always have me.”
    • V. 8— “She did that which she held (in her to do)—she took (the opportunity) before(hand) to apply ointment (to) my body, unto [i.e. for] the placing (of it) in the grave.”
    • V. 9— “Amen, I say to you, (that) wherever the good message is proclaimed, into the whole world, even th(at) which this (woman) did will be spoken unto her memorial [i.e. as a memorial for her].”

These may be divided into two groups, reflecting two aspects of the narrative:

    • The costliness of the anointing—Christian ideals of poverty and humility (represented by the onlookers’ objection) required that some explanation of this “waste” be given. The answer comes in vv. 6-7, especially Jesus’ saying regarding the poor in v. 7.
    • The connection with the death of Jesus—it is doubtless this aspect in vv. 8-9 which caused the episode to be set within the context of the Passion narrative. As we shall see, there is some indication that the original tradition/event may have originally occurred at an earlier point in the Gospel narrative.

Matthew 26:6-13

Matthew follows the Markan account rather closely. The Gospel writer has, in other respects, expanded the Passion Narrative considerably, such as can be seen in the narrative introduction (compare vv. 1-5 with Mk 14:1-2). The main difference is found in vv. 1-2, which contain a transitional statement (v. 1) and a declaration by Jesus (v. 2) which echoes the earlier Passion predictions (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19 par). However, the Anointing scene itself shows relatively little development. Typically, Matthew’s version is smoother and simpler, lacking some of the specific detail and color of Mark’s account. It also contains certain details not found in Mark:

    • Those who object to the woman’s action are identified as Jesus’ disciples (v. 8). This is a significant development; John’s version is even more specific.
    • In v. 10a there is the possible indication that Jesus is aware of the disciples’ thoughts/hearts (cf. 9:4, etc).
    • The woman’s action (v. 12) is described by Jesus through a somewhat different formulation: “For this (woman), casting [i.e. pouring] the myrrh-ointment upon my body, did (this) toward [i.e. for] my being placed in the grave.” Matthew’s version emphasizes the allusion to the process of embalming, prior to burial.

Two of the four sayings by Jesus here—the second and the last (vv. 11, 13 / Mk 14:7, 9)—seem to be especially fixed in the tradition, with little variation:

    • Mk 14:7 / Matt 26:11—in the saying regarding the poor, Matthew’s version is shorter (an abridgment?), but otherwise the wording is very close.
    • Mk 14:9 / Matt 26:13—the authenticity of the closing statement regarding the woman would seem to be confirmed (on objective grounds), by: (a) the nearly identical wording, and (b) the formula “Amen, I say to you…” (am¢¡n légœ hymín), which is most distinctive and a sign of an early Jesus tradition. The solemnity of the saying was certainly influential in the preservation of the episode within the Gospel tradition.

There is more variation (between Matthew and Mark) in the other two sayings, especially that in Mk 14:8 par which associates the woman’s action with Jesus’ burial. This fluidity would suggest that the saying was not as well established in the tradition. As indicated above, Matthew’s version enhances the association between the anointing and the (symbolic) embalming of Jesus after death.

John 12:1-8

Anyone who studies these three versions (Mark-Matthew and John) carefully will immediately recognize how close John’s version is to the core Synoptic account of Mark-Matthew (especially that of Mark, 14:3-9 [see above]). Indeed, the similarities far outweigh the differences. This marks the (Bethany) Anointing tradition as both early and authentic (on objective grounds), having been preserved in two distinct lines of Gospel tradition (John and the Synoptic). However, there are several significant differences in John’s account:

    • John’s episode is set six days before Passover (v. 1), compared with two days before in the Synoptic version (Mk 14:1 par).
    • The woman who anoints Jesus is identified as Mary, sister of Lazarus (v. 3, cf. verse 2 and 11:1ff). In the Synoptics, the woman is unnamed (Mk 14:3 par).
    • She anoints the feet of Jesus (v. 3), rather than his head (Mk 14:3 par).
    • The person who voices objection to this action is identified as Judas Iscariot (vv. 4ff); cp. Mk 14:4-5 and Matt 26:8-9.
    • The beautiful image in v. 3b of the smell of the perfume filling the house is unique to John’s account.

Each of these will be discussed briefly, in turn.

1. Six days— “Then six days before the Pesah {Passover}, Yeshua came into Beth-Ananyah {Bethany}…” The context in Mk 14:1 par indicates that the Anointing took place two days before Passover. More significantly, John clearly sets the Anointing before Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem (12:12ff), while in the Synoptics (Mk/Matt) it takes place after. Which chronology is correct, or more accurately reflects the original historical event (and tradition)? On the one hand, the Synoptic version may have relocated it, setting it within the Passion narrative, in order to bring out the association with Jesus’ death and burial (Mk 14:8-9 par; Jn 12:7). On the other hand, it is possible that John has intentionally placed it earlier in the narrative, in order to bring out the association with Lazarus and Mary in chapter 11. The traditional commemoration of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, one week prior to Easter, is based on the chronology in John.

2. Mary—John is unique among the Gospels in identifying the woman with Mary, sister of Lazarus (v. 3). The episode follows immediately after the resurrection of Lazarus in chapter 11, in which both Mary and her sister Martha play significant roles in the narrative (vv. 5, 19-27, 31-33, 45). All three siblings appear at the dinner in chapter 12 (vv. 2-3), which may have taken place in the family’s house. Outside of John 11-12, Martha and Mary appear in Lk 10:38-42, but without any mention of Bethany or Lazarus. The identification of the woman with Mary is likely a secondary development, in line with the early Christian (and Jewish) tendency of identifying unnamed figures in the Scriptures with specific persons. Almost certainly, Mark reflects an earlier version of the tradition in this regard.

3. Judas Iscariot—Similarly, John identifies the person objecting to the anointing as Judas Iscariot (v. 4). Here, we can actually trace the development:

    • Persons present at the dinner, otherwise unidentified (Mk 14:4)

Interestingly, Matthew’s identification of the people with Jesus’ disciples is presumably meant to be positive—they object to the extravagant ‘waste’ of costly perfume which could otherwise have been put to the more practical use of caring for the poor. However, in John, the identification with Judas turns this around and is decidedly negative—Judas was a ‘thief’ and did not really have any concern for the poor. Here we must separate out for consideration two specific details (or traditions) which John includes:

    1. The person voicing objection was Judas (v. 4)
    2. Judas was a thief and did not care for the poor (v. 6)

The first of these fits with the information in Matt 26:8, that Jesus’ disciples were the ones objecting to the waste of perfume. The second is more difficult. Many scholars are naturally suspicious of such a detail since it seems to follow the early Christian tendency to vilify Judas and depict him in an increasingly negative and hostile light. For more on this, see my note on Judas in the earlier series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

4. The feet of Jesus—In the Synoptic version, the woman anoints Jesus’ head (Mk 14:3 par), however, in John’s account, somewhat strangely, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with the perfume (12:3). Traditional-conservative commentators might be inclined to harmonize here, and say that she anointed both the head and feet, but the Markan account would seem to rule this out. In Mk 14:3 it is stated that the women shattered the alabaster jar—the implication being that she poured all the perfume over Jesus’ head. This helps to explain the objection to the “waste”—she used it all up in one extravagant action. More to the point, in each of the versions, the woman anoints either Jesus’ head (Mk/Matt) or his feet (Jn), but never both. Curiously, in Luke’s version of the Anointing (to be discussed), the woman’s action matches that of Mary’s in Jn 12:3:

“and standing behind (him) alongside his feet (and) weeping, she began to wet his feet with (her) tears and she wiped (them) out with the hairs of her head, and she ‘kissed’ his feet and anointed (them) with the myrrh-ointment” (Lk 7:38)

John’s description of the action is simpler (indicated by the words in bold above), but appears to follow the same basic tradition:

“Then Maryam…anointed the feet of Yeshua and wiped out [i.e. off] his feet with her hair…” (v. 3)

Some critical commentators feel that this represents the original tradition—i.e. anointing Jesus’ feet—and that, in the Synoptic version, it has been modified to the more understandable act of anointing Jesus’ head. The latter, of course, is more fitting for Jesus’ identity and dignity as the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) and King. However, the anointing of the feet is actually more appropriate, in some ways, for the symbolic embalming of a dead body (Mk 14:8-9 par; Jn 12:7).

5. The house was filled—It is likely that this beautiful and evocative detail in v. 3b is meant to symbolize the faith and devotion of Mary (and disciples/believers like her). In some ways this is parallel to the scene with Martha in the Lazarus narrative (11:20-27, esp. her declarations in v. 21 and 27). R. E. Brown (The Gospel According to John [AB vol. 29], p. 453) notes a (later) Jewish parallel from the Midrash Rabbah on Ecclesiastes 7:1: “The fragrance of a good perfume spreads from the bedroom to the dining room; so does a good name spread from one end of the world to the other” (translation his). This quotation also seems to suggest a relationship between v. 3 and the declaration by Jesus in Mk 14:9 par.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the Anointing episode in the Gospel of Luke. On the surface, the Lukan version seems to be recording an entirely different Anointing scene, and yet there are certain aspects and details which suggest that the author may, in fact, be drawing upon the same basic tradition as the other three versions.

March 24: Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:39-41 par

Jonah 1:17ff

“And YHWH numbered [i.e., appointed] a great fish to swallow Yonah; and Yonah was in (the) belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

On at least one occasion, Jesus references the famous episode from the book of Jonah, in which the reluctant prophet is thrown into the sea and swallowed by a “great fish” (1:17). This provides the narrative setting for the splendid lament-poem in chapter 2 (vv. 2-9), which, in many ways, forms the heart of the book. The reference occurs at Matthew 12:40, and suggests that the “sign of Jonah” (v. 39) is the miraculous episode of the fish, and that the ‘three days and three nights’ is to be taken as a prophetic allusion to the death and resurrection of Jesus. There can be no doubt that the Gospel writer, along with many other early Christians, understood the matter this way. However, it would seem that, in the original Gospel tradition, the “sign of Jonah” had nothing to do with the famous episode of the fish.

Matthew 12:39-42 has a parallel in Luke 11:29-32, part of the so-called “Q” material—narrative episodes and sayings common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. And yet, each Gospel handles this material in a slightly different way, setting it within a different location in the overall narrative. For Luke, it is part of a collection of teaching by Jesus set during the long journey to Jerusalem (9:51-18:34). It is introduced in a very generic way, with little apparent connection to the preceding sections:

“And (with) the throng (of people) crowding upon (him), he began to say, ‘This (age of) coming-to-be [genea/] is an evil (age of) coming-to-be! (Its people) seek a sign, and (yet) no sign will be given to it, if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah’.” (11:29)

Matthew sets this tradition within the context of various controversy-episodes between Jesus and the religious authorities (‘Scribes and Pharisees’), all of which are rooted in the main Synoptic Tradition:

In addition, the teaching in 12:33-37, similar to other “Q” sayings (7:11, 16-20; Lk 6:43-45), assumes the same sort of controversy-setting (as v. 34 makes clear). The introduction to the “sign of Jonah” saying (v. 38) must be understood within this narrative context:

“Then some of the Writers [i.e. Scribes] and Pharisees gave forth (an answer) to him, saying: ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign [shmei=on] from you’.”

On the surface, this may seem like a simple and harmless request, and yet, the controversy-context of chapter 12 suggests that it must be read as a challenge, of sorts, to Jesus. This helps to explain Jesus’ rather harsh response:

“And, giving forth [an answer back] to them, he said: ‘[Only] an evil and unfaithful [i.e. adulterous] (age of) coming-to-be [genea/] seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it, if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah the Foreteller!'” (v. 39)

I have translated genea/ in an extremely literal way, as an age or period of “coming to be”; it is typically rendered as “generation”, emphasizing the people of the age. The fundamental meaning is of a group/collection of people who have “come to be” (i.e., have been born and lived) in a particular place and time. When Jesus refers, as he frequently does, to “this genea/,” it is aimed directly at those people whom he is addressing—i.e., those alive in Galilee and Judea, etc, at the time. The expression “this genea/” almost always has a harsh and negative connotation.

In Matthew’s version of this material, the allusion to the “great fish” episode in the book of Jonah (1:17ff), follows in v. 40, indicating that the “sign of Jonah” refers to the miraculous episode (and as a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection, cf. above). However, no such allusion occurs in Luke’s version, and most critical scholars would hold that the shorter Lukan version here represents the more original form of the “Q” tradition. Indeed, Luke’s version gives an entirely different meaning to the “sign of Jonah”:

“For, even as Yonah came to be a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this (age of) coming-to-be [genea/].”

There is no indication that the episode with the great fish had any bearing on Jonah’s mission to the people of Ninevah (chapter 3); indeed, the text nowhere suggests that they ever had occasion to hear of the matter. Rather, it was the prophetic message of Jonah, his preaching to the people, that constituted the “sign”. He warned them that, if they repented and trusted in God, the disaster coming upon them would be averted; the king and the people responded to this message, and they were saved from a disastrous judgment (by God), just as Jonah predicted.

This line of interpretation is confirmed by the second illustration offered by Jesus (Lk 11:31/Matt 12:42), regarding the “Queen of the South” (i.e., the Queen of Sheba), who traveled to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom (i.e., the inspired teaching) of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 10:1-29, par 2 Chron 9:1-12). This wisdom-aspect is related to the inspired message of the prophet—both being manifestations of the word of God given to a specially chosen/gifted individual.

The ultimate point of these illustrations is made clearly enough, with a bit of harsh and biting irony. Faraway heathen peoples (the Ninevites, the Queen of Sheba) responded to the word of God, and yet many people right here in Israel (i.e., in the cities of Galilee) are unable or unwilling to accept it! And how much more should it be accepted when Jesus is the messenger, since he (the Son of Man) represents something even greater than Solomon (or the prophet Jonah). The Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba will rise up (as witnesses) at the tribunal of the great Judgment, bringing condemnation to the Galileans who refuse to trust in Jesus (Matt 12:41-42; Lk 11:31a, 32).

It seems clear enough that, in the original form of Jesus’ teaching, the “sign of Jonah” was the inspired prophetic message that led to faith and repentance by the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3). Now Jesus, a Prophet far greater than Jonah (indeed, even more than a prophet), is bringing a message to the people of Israel—and many of them refuse to accept it!

Interestingly, the rebuke of those who “seek after a sign” would seem to downplay the importance of Jesus’ miracles as a sign of his Messianic/Prophetic identity. It would be a mistake to interpret the passage in this way. To be sure, the emphasis here is on Jesus’ preaching and teaching; however, there is another tradition (also part of the “Q” material) where Jesus rebukes the people of Galilee, in a similar manner, for refusing to respond to his miracles—cf. Matt 11:20-24 / Lk 10:13-15.

The accepted critical view would be that the reference to the fish-episode of Jonah 1:17ff (Matt 12:40) is a Matthean addition to the original “Q” material. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that the Gospel writer, apparently, does much the same thing with the comparable Synoptic/Markan saying of Jesus in Mk 8:11-12:

“And the Pharisees came out and began to seek to (question) him  together, seeking (from) alongside of him a sign from heaven, (and thus) testing him. And (to this), giving up a groan in his spirit, he says: ‘(For) what [i.e. why] does this (age of) coming-to-be [genea/] seek a sign? Amen, I say to you—(consider) if a(ny) sign shall be given to this (age of) coming-to-be!'”

This is similar in many respects to the “Q” episode, especially in the Matthean narrative setting of the controversy-scenes with the Scribes and Pharisees (cf. above). Indeed, many scholars would maintain that both Mk 8:11-12 and the “Q” episode derive from a single (common) historical tradition, having been preserved in two variant forms. Matthew seems to contain a version of this Synoptic/Markan tradition (16:1, 4a), combined with an additional illustration (vv. 2-3). As with the “Q” material, the Gospel writer has apparently added the Jonah reference to this tradition (perhaps to harmonize it with 12:39f): “…but no sign will be given to it, if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah” (v. 4b). Of course it is always possible that Jesus may have made the same reference on multiple occasions; however, there are enough instances in the Gospels where separate sayings/traditions are joined together based on a common theme or “catchword” bonding, that it seems likely that this has taken place at both 16:4 and 12:40.

To say that Matt 12:40 represents an ‘addition’ by the Gospel writer does not mean that it is not an authentic tradition or a genuine saying by Jesus. If the “three days” motif was an authentic part of the Synoptic passion-predictions by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34 pars), it would have been simple enough for Jesus himself to latch on to the traditional motif as it occurred in the Jonah narrative (1:17ff). Along the same lines, one could scarcely fault the Gospel writer for including such an association where he does at Matt 12:40. The “three days” motif in Jonah 1:17 must have been readily applied by early Christians to the death and resurrection of Jesus (even apart from Matt 12:40), and all the more so if the motif was rooted in the early Gospel Tradition (through the passion predictions, etc).

Some commentators have suggested that, even if Luke 11:29-32 does not contain the allusion to Jonah 1:17, the Gospel writer understood (and intended) the association. This is intriguing, in light of the the way the Lazarus parable (in 16:19-31) ends. The Rich Man, in torment in Hades, pleads with Abraham that he be given the chance to warn his brothers, so that they might repent and avoid meeting the same terrible fate (vv. 27-28). This generally matches the idea of Jonah preaching to the Ninevites. Abraham responds that the man’s brothers already have “Moses and the Prophets [including Jonah!]” (v. 29)—the implication being that, if they will not repent their ways while they possess the inspired Scripture, they will likely not repent even if the man is able somehow to warn them. To this, the man further insists, “…if someone from the dead were to travel toward them, (then) they will change (their) mind-set [i.e. repent]” (v. 30). Abraham’s stinging reply is that not even the miracle of someone coming back from the dead is likely to cause them to repent!— “If they do not hear [i.e. listen to] Moshe and the Foretellers, (so) also they will not, even if one stood up out of the dead, be persuaded” (v. 31).



March 22: Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; 12:7

Hosea 6:6

This note is included as part of the current series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. The statement in Hosea 6:6 is of considerable significance, even if it plays only a minor role in the Gospel Tradition. It represents a marked trend in early Christianity—one which, it may be said, goes back to the teaching of Jesus.

The saying (or sayings) of Jesus that quotes part of Hosea 6:6 is found only in the Gospel of Matthew, where it occurs twice (9:13 and 12:7). There is every reason to think that it originally circulated as a separate saying, which was then added by the Gospel writer to the two Synoptic episodes, being generally appropriate to the context in each case. For some reason, this saying, with its citation of Hos 6:6, was only preserved in a line of tradition inherited by Matthew (so-called “M” material). Here are the two versions of the Matthean saying:

But (as) you are traveling, learn what (this) is: ‘I wish (for) mercy, and not (ritual) slaughter’ —for I did not come to call just (person)s, but sinful (one)s.” (9:13)

But if you had known what (this) is— ‘I wish (for) mercy, and not (ritual) slaughter’ —you would not have sought justice against (one)s (who are) without (any cause) to be questioned.” (12:7)

The core saying (in bold above) has been adapted slightly to the context in each episode. While it is certainly possible that this reflects Jesus’ actual usage of the Scripture in the historical setting, the lack of any such citation in the parallel Synoptic versions makes it much more likely that an independent saying of Jesus has been added (by the Gospel writer) to the scene in each case. There is, however, no a priori reason to doubt the authenticity of the saying (with its citation of Hos 6:6).

The portion of Hos 6:6 cited (in Greek) by Jesus in the Gospel is identical to the LXX translation:

e&leo$ qe/lw kai\ ou) qusi/an
“I wish (for) mercy/compassion, not (ritual) slaughter”

In the original Hebrew this is:

jb^z` al)w+ yT!x=p^j* ds#j# yK!
“For I delight (in) ds#j#, and not (ritual) slaughter”

The Greek emphasizes the will (wish) of YHWH, while the original Hebrew properly involves that which pleases or delights Him (vb Jp^j*); it is a subtle, but significant difference. On the other hand, the Greek noun qusi/a corresponds precisely in meaning with Hebrew jb^z#—literally, “slaughter”, but often in the technical sense of ritual slaughter (that is, of a sacrificial animal for an offering). An altar is literally the “place of slaughter” (j^B@z+m!), though it came to be used in a general sense for any altar, even when there was no slaughtered animal involved. Here, the noun jb^z# stands as a shorthand reference for the entire sacrificial ritual—the cultic system of offerings made at the Temple (and earlier shrines).

I have left the noun ds*j* temporarily untranslated above. It is the key word in the passage (6:4-6). In order to understand the verse properly, we must view it within the context of this passage:

“What shall I do to you, Eprayim?
What shall I do to you, Yehudah?
(For) your ds#j#, like a cloud (at) day-break,
and like (the) dew (fall)ing in the (early morn),
is (always) going (away).
Upon this [i.e. for this reason] I cut (them) with (my) spokesmen,
I (have) slain them with (the) utterances of my mouth—
my judgment goes forth like (the) light (of the sun)!
For I delight in ds#j#, and not (ritual) slaughter,
and knowledge of (the) Mightiest, (far) from (the) rising (smoke of) offerings!”

YHWH is speaking here; and, if vv. 4-6 is to be associated directly with the prior vv. 1-3, then God is responding to the declared intention of the people that they will “turn back to YHWH” (v. 1) and will “pursue the knowledge of YHWH” (v. 3). Here, he addresses both the northern kingdom (Ephraim) and the southern kingdom (Judah)–i.e., the people of Israel as a whole. In spite of their words (in vv. 1-3), history has demonstrated that their ds#j# is like a passing cloud or the morning dew, which only stays for a brief time and then goes away.

The word ds#j# covers a relatively wide semantic range, and is rather difficult to translate consistently in English. The fundamental meaning is something like “goodness, kindness”; however, quite often in the Old Testament, the word relates specifically to the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and Israel. In such a context, it connotes “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”; in keeping with the basic meaning, we might capture this nuance by translating ds#j# as “good (faith)”. For the sake of a smooth translation here, and yet one which accurately interprets the sense of the passage, let us insert “loyalty” for ds#j# above. Verse 4 then would read:

“What shall I do to you, Eprayim?
What shall I do to you, Yehudah?
(For) your loyalty, like a cloud (at) day-break,
and like (the) dew (fall)ing in the (early morn),
is (always) going (away).”

In other words, His complaint is that the people’s loyalty—to Him and to the covenant—is only passing; it tends not to last. And it has been their lack of loyalty, their violations of the covenant, that has led YHWH to bring judgment upon them, at various times throughout their history. Often this judgment was announced through His chosen spokespersons (<ya!yb!n+, i.e., “prophets”); such messages “cut” the people, but was only a precursor to the actual killing blow when the judgment truly struck. The bright and shining character of God’s judgment, “like (the) light” of the sun, goes out in truth and justice to all people, seeing (and revealing) all things. No wickedness can be hidden from the light of YHWH.

This brings us to the climactic lines of verse 6. Again, substituting “loyalty” for ds#j#, these read as follows:

“For I delight in loyalty, and not (ritual) slaughter,
and knowledge of (the) Mightiest, (far) from (the) rising (smoke of offering)s!”

Loyalty to YHWH, along with “knowledge of God”, is here contrasted with the slaughter (jb^z#) of sacrificial animals, and the smoke that rises (hl*u*) when they are offered up on the altar. In other words, loyalty to God takes priority over performing the sacrificial ritual. The force of this contrast is captured by the prefixed preposition /m! in the second line. I have rendered the preposition quite literally above, as “(far) from”. This can be understood in a negative sense (i.e., “instead of, rather than”), or a comparative sense (“more than”). In the first instance, we would give a conventional translation of the line as “and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”; in the second instance, it would be “and knowledge of God more than burnt offerings”. The negative aspect is to be preferred.

This verse is part of a long line of prophetic messages that emphasize the importance of a person’s intention and overall behavior, rather that the simple matter of whether they fulfilled the required ritual. Performing the ritual (e.g., offering the sacrificial animal) could be done, according to the letter of the Law, without any real faithfulness or devotion to YHWH. This was all the more striking—and worthy of condemnation—when the same person who fulfilled the ritual requirement engaged in unethical, immoral, or impious behavior in other matters. Such superficial (and hypocritical) observance of the Torah was condemned by the Prophets in the harshest terms. Among the more notable passages are Isa 1:11-15; Jer 6:19-20; 7:8-11ff; Amos 5:22-24ff.

It is possible that Hos 6:6 may be echoing one of the earliest examples of this prophetic theme: the oracle of Samuel (addressed to Saul) in 1 Sam 15:22-23, which begins:

“Is there delight for YHWH in (the) rising (smoke of) offerings and slaughtered (animal)s, as much as (in) hearing (the) voice of YHWH?”

Then comes the key declaration:

“Hearing (is far) from (ritual) slaughter (in being) good [i.e. hearing/obedience is better than sacrifice]…”

Loyalty (ds#j#) to YHWH and His covenant could well be summarized as “hearing [i.e. listening to] the voice of YHWH”.

Returning the LXX translation, it is notable that ds#j# is typically rendered as e&leo$ (“mercy, compassion”), even though this does not seem to represent the fundamental meaning of the Hebrew. In any case, it is the aspect of mercy/compassion that Jesus emphasizes in his use of the verse.

As the saying is applied in the first Synoptic passage (the call of Levi, Matt 9:9-13 = Mk 2:13-17; Lk 5:27-32), it relates to the objections that some Jews had to Jesus dining with “toll-collectors and sinners”, which could be seen as a violation of the purity/holiness standards of the Torah. The Synoptic narrative concludes with the double-saying of Jesus in Mk 2:17 par:

“The (one)s being strong have no business with [i.e. no need for] a healer, but (only) the (one)s having (an) ill(ness); (so) I did not come to call just (person)s, but sinful (one)s.”

The “just/right” ones (dikai/oi), from a traditional religious standpoint, are those who faithfully observe the Torah; while the “sinners” are those who ignore or fail to observe the Law. In socio-religious terms, this latter category covered a wide range of persons, including many from the lower (and poorer) segments of society, as well as members of certain professions (like toll-collectors), and virtually all Gentiles (non-Jews). Jesus’ declaration makes clear that his mission is aimed at all peopleespecially those who fit into this broad category of “sinners”.

It is in this context that Matthew inserts the saying-quotation of Hos 6:6, at 9:13a, in between v. 12 and 13b. The addition of this saying has the effect of broading the scope of Jesus’ teaching, making the point that Jesus’ mission takes priority over observance of the Torah.

This becomes even clearer when we consider the use of the Hos 6:6 saying in the second Synoptic passage: the Sabbath controversy episode of Mark 2:23-28; Lk 6:1-5. In Matthew, this is found at 12:1-8. Again, the citation-saying is inserted into the middle of the traditional episode, before the climactic declaration: “So also the Son of Man is Lord even of the Shabbat” (Mk 2:28 par). This is a striking statement, with a two-fold meaning: (a) a human being (son of man) is lord over the Sabbath (and not the other way around), and (b) Jesus, specifically, as the Son of Man, is Lord over the Sabbath. In other words, Jesus has authority over the Sabbath (and its regulations), with the implication that following him (and his mission) takes precedence over observing the Sabbath regulations.

Matthew’s version adds an additional illustration involving the service of priests in the Temple (v. 5). In their role as priests, such persons are able to do things (work) which would otherwise be considered as a violation of the Sabbath regulations. In that regard, their Temple service takes precedence over the Sabbath laws. How much more, then, does service to Jesus take precedence; as he declares in v. 6: “(one) greater than the Temple is here”.

These examples from Matthew’s Gospel illustrate how Hosea 6:6, interpreted in the context of Jesus and his ministry, became part of an early Christian tendency to relativize the importance of observing the Torah regulations—especially those involving the sacrificial (Temple) ritual. I discuss the entire subject at considerable length in the series “The Law and the New Testament”. Special attention should be given to the articles on “Jesus and the Law”; in the introductory article of this set, you will find, I think, the critical question of Jesus’ relationship to the Torah well summarized.

March 21: Isaiah 61:3-7

Isaiah 61:3c-7

Today’s note brings to a conclusion our supplemental study on Isa 61:1-3, in connection with the article in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. Verses 3c-7 comprise the second part of the poem in vv. 1-7. The first part (vv. 1-3ab) describes the mission of the Spirit-anointed herald, while the second gives us what may be described as the substance of the herald’s message. It is a message of the future glory and blessing that will come to God’s people in the New Age. The focus, of course, in the context of the post-exilic period, is on Judah and the city of Jerusalem.

The message (in vv. 3c-7) itself can be divided into three parts, as follows:

    • Vv. 3c-4 (“They”)—Blessing for the People: Restoration of the Land
    • Vv. 5-6 (“You”)—The Nations will serve the People
    • V. 7 (“They”)—Blessing for the People: Inheritance in the Land

As indicated in the outline, the address shifts from the 3rd person plural to the 2nd, and then back to the 3rd.

Verses 3c-4

“And it will be called (out) to them ‘strong (oak)s of justice’,
(the) planting of YHWH for making (Himself) beautiful;
and they will build (the) dry (place)s of (the) distant (past),
and will make stand (the) destroyed (place)s of (times) before,
and will make new (the) cities of dry (dust),
(the) destroyed (citie)s (from) cycle to cycle.”

The message begins with a promise that the people—those poor and oppressed (vv. 1-3)—will have their fortunes change: they will be turned into strong and sturdy trees (<yl!ya@). YHWH calls out this identity for them (the divine passive ar*q), “it will be called”), and then will make it come about in reality, by “planting” (vb uf^n`) them in the Land. This imagery goes back to the ancient covenant promise regarding Israel’s inheritance of the (promised) Land (cf. Exod 15:17; Num 24:6; 2 Sam 7:10, etc).

In verse 4, the motif shifts from planting trees to building cities—both lines of imagery being related to the idea of the restoration of Israel/Judah in the New Age. The repeated emphasis (in four lines) on the rebuilding of ruins clearly indicates a post-exilic setting, and presumably a good number of years since the conquest and destruction had occurred. A setting in the mid-5th century B.C., prior to the building work of Nehemiah, seems likely. It has been long enough that only dried out ruins are left; the destruction took place in the “distant (past)” (<l*ou), and generations have come and gone since (rodw` roD, “cycle and cycle”, i.e., generation to generation).

Verses 5-6

“And (those who) turn aside [i.e. strangers] will stand and pasture your herds,
and sons of a foreigner (will be) your diggers and vine-workers;
but you will be called ‘priests of YHWH,’
and ‘(people) serving our Mighty (One)’ it will be said to you;
you shall eat the strength [i.e. riches/wealth] of (the) nations,
and you shall show yourselves in their weight [i.e. worth/glory/splendor].”

The shift from 3rd person plural to 2nd gives a more personal focus to the message. One may also explain the shift because of the mention of other peoples—i.e., from the surrounding nations (<y]oG), foreign (rk*n@) people, and strangers who “turn aside” (rWz) to reside among God’s people. Addressing Israel/Judah as “you” highlights the distinction with the other people (“they”). In the New Age, it is these other people who will do the manual work and labor in the Land—viz., herding, digging/farming, vine-working, etc. This frees up the people of Israel/Judah to serve as priests of YHWH, devoting themselves exclusively to religious service. Again, this line of imagery draws upon early traditions regarding the covenant role of Israel as God’s chosen people (Exod 19:6, etc).

Admittedly, this theme of the servile submission of the nations may not be particularly appealing to us as Christians today, but it is well-rooted in the ancient Near Eastern worldview. It also represents an important aspect of God’s judgment against the nations. The judgment against Israel and Judah has already been fulfilled (through the conquest and exile), and now, in these Deutero- and Trito-Isaian poems, the focus of judgment shifts to the surrounding nations. Their punishment involves a reversal—in the exile (and its aftermath), Israel/Judah served the nations, but now, in the New Age, it is the nations who will serve God’s people.

Not only do the nations serve God’s people, but they also bring homage and tribute from their lands; as a result, the wealth of the nations flows into Jerusalem. This is a particularly prominent theme in chapters 56-66 (cf. especially the prior chapter 60). The motif is hinted at here in the last two lines as well: the people will “eat” the riches (lit. strength, ly]j^) of the nations, and will exult in their “weight” (dobK*, i.e., worth, honor, glory, splendor). The precise meaning and derivation of the Hithpael form WrM*y~t=T! is uncertain. Some would derive it from the root rWm (“change, exchange”), others from the common verb rm^a* (“show, say”), or from a separate root rma (II) that specifically means “boast, pride oneself”. That posited second rma root is questionable, and is largely based on this one reference here. For the sake of simplicity, I have translated the form above as a reflexive (Hithpael) of the common verb rm^a*, in its fundamental meaning of “make visible, show”. The people will “show (off) themselves” in the wealth and splendor of the nations. This plays on the garment-motif in v. 3ab, which, it seems, continues in verse 7a.

Verse 7

“Under [i.e. in place of] your shame, a two-fold (blessing),
and (instead of) disgrace, they will cry (for joy in) their portion;
for so (it is that) in their land they will possess two-fold,
and there will be joy (into the) distant (future) for them.”

The two aspects of the restoration emphasized in vv. 3c-6—(1) a renewed strength and splendor for the people, and (2) a renewal of the richness of the land—are combined here in the final verse. This renewal/restoration will be double, or two-fold (hn#v=m!), likely corresponding to the idea that Israel/Judah suffered a double punishment in the conquest and exile (as mentioned in the Deutero-Isaian poems, e.g., 40:2; 51:19). At the same time, the concept of a double-reward for the losses suffered is traditional, and is reflected, for example, in the conclusion to the story of Job (42:10). The term <l*ou (“distant [past/future]”) emphasizes the New Age for Israel/Judah. In verse 4, it was used in reference to the distant past (and the destruction of the land); here, it refers to the distant future, and the glorious New Age in the restored Land. It also alludes to the new covenant (lit. binding agreement, tyr!B=) that YHWH will make with His people (v. 8; cf. also 59:21, etc): it will be an everlasting covenant—that is to say, it will last into the far distant future (<l*ou). This “new covenant” theme—which can be found in other Prophet writings of the exilic and post-exilic period—is one of many Isaian motifs (drawn from these Deutero- and Trito-Isaian poems) that early Christians adopted as part of their eschatological and Messianic worldview, and which became an expression of their (and our) religious identity as believers in Christ.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 41 (Part 1)

Psalm 41

Dead Sea MSS: Nothing of Ps 41 has been preserved among the surviving Psalms MSS

This Psalm may be divided loosely into two parts. The first (vv. 2-5 [1-4]) is a prayer to YHWH with strong Wisdom features. It focuses on the righteous, and climaxes with a personal plea (by the Psalmist) for healing and deliverance.  The second part (vv. 6-13 [5-12]) deals with the attacks by the wicked against the righteous, retaining the central theme-setting of the first part: the experience of illness by the righteous. As in several other Psalms we have studied thus far, the wicked respond with malice (slanderous taunts) to the suffering of the righteous. The prayer that concludes this second part (vv. 11-13 [10-12]) focuses on deliverance from these attacks by the wicked. A short verse of praise (v. 14 [13]) to YHWH brings the Psalm to a close.

Metrically, the Psalm tends to follow a 4+4 bicolon (couplet) format; however, there many irregularities as well, some of which may be evidence of textual corruption. Sadly, as noted above, there is no help available from the Dead Sea manuscripts, since Psalm 41 is not to be found among the surviving Psalms MSS.

The superscription gives the common direction, designating the work as another musical composition (romz+m!) “belonging to David”.

Verses 2-5 [1-4]

Verse 2 [1]

“Happiness of (the one) giving consideration to (the) lowly <and needy>,
in (the) day of evil, YHWH will cause him to slip away [i.e. escape].”

There is a fundamental difficulty in the first line of this couplet. The meter of the couplet as it stands is 3+4, rather than the expected 4+4, suggesting that a word may have dropped out. Secondly, we have the word lD*: does it mean “lowly (one)” (from ll^D*), or “door” (from hl*D*)? The former is the more common lD* in the Psalms, where it is paired with the noun /oyb+a# (“needy, poor”), i.e., “the lowly and needy” (72:13; 82:3-4; 113:7). Many commentators thus would add here /oyb=a#w+, a reading which the LXX seems to assume. In this case, the first line would be:

“Happiness of (the one) giving consideration to (the) lowly <and needy>”

However, another possibility is raised by a comparison with Psalm 141:3, where we find the idea of keeping watch over “the door [lD*] of (one’s) lips” (i.e., guarding one’s speech).

Making the situation more difficult is the fact that the verb lk^c* only rarely takes a direct object or governs a prepositional phrase; such occurrences are even rarer when the verb form is a participle, such as the Hiphil form here /yk!c=m^, where it tends to be used as a substantive (“[one] giving consideration”, i.e., who is wise/prudent/understanding). The only such instances of the participle in the Psalms are 14:2 and 53:3 [2], while it is rather more common in the Proverbs. It is also in the Proverbs where we find the closest parallels to the usage here:

    • Prov 16:20: “(the one) giving consideration upon a word” (rb*D*-lu^ lyK!c=m^)
    • Prov 16:23: “(the) heart of a wise (man) gives consideration (to) his mouth, and upon his lips he continues receiving (instruction)”
    • Prov 21:11: “in (his) giving consideration to (the) wise he receives knowledge”
    • Prov 21:12: “(the) righteous (one) is giving consideration to (the) house of the wicked”

Prov 16:23 favors lD* as “door (of)” in Ps 41:2 [1], with an emended reading such as: “(the one) giving consideration to (the) door of <his lips >” (cf. Dahood, p. 249). On the other hand, Prov 21:11-13 favors an emended text that follows the LXX (cf. above), with the idea of paying attention to the lowly (lD*) and needy. The evidence, as I see it, is equally divided. It is unfortunate that nothing of Psalm 41 is preserved in the Dead Sea Psalms manuscripts; if verse 2 [1] were present, it might well resolve the textual question.

Another factor is the beatitude context. This formulation (opening with yr@v=a^, “happiness of”, “how happy is…”) is frequently applied to the righteous, in terms of those who walk according to the path of YHWH, following the commands and precepts of the Torah, etc. As such, it seems that it might relate better to the idea of guarding one’s lips (and heart), as in Psalm 141:3-4. All things considered, I am inclined to adopt a reading that is comparable in meaning to Psalm 141:3:

“Happiness of (the one) giving consideration to (the) door of <his lips>”
or, conceivably,
“Happiness of (the one) giving consideration to (the) door of <his heart>”

However, with no textual support for such an emendation, it is probably safer, for the time being, to follow the LXX, in the manner indicated above.

Verse 3 [2]

“YHWH shall guard him and keep him alive,
He shall make (him) happy in the land,
and shall not give him in(to the) throat of his enemies!”

Metrically, this verse is difficult and may possibly be corrupt; if so, there is, unfortunately, no reliable way to modify or emend the text. As it is stands, the verse reads as an irregular (3+2+3) tricolon. Conceptually, the lines are straightforward enough, following the promise of deliverance for the righteous in the second line of verse 2 [1] (cf. above). The protection provided by YHWH, guarding the life of the righteous, relates to the idea of rescuing him “in the day of evil”.

The second line here is a bit awkward, and it may be preferable (along with Dahood, p. 249) to vocalize rvay as an active (Piel) form, rV@a^y+ (“he will make happy”), rather than the passive (Pual) of the MT, rV^a%y+ (“he will be made happy”). Clearly, the verb rv^a* relates to the beatitude formula the opens the Psalm (cf. above), and reflects the blessing that YHWH gives to the righteous. Those whom YHWH delivers in the time of evil, under his protection they will be safe and will prosper in the land (i.e., their life on earth).

In the final line, it is best to understand vp#n# in the concrete sense of “throat”, which is how the word is used occasionally in the Psalms (and other early poems). Another possible translation is “appetite”, which would conform more closely to the regular rendering of vp#n# as “soul” (cf. below). The enemies (lit. “hostile [one]s”) of the righteous seek to devour them, which can include the idea of causing their death. It is also possible that the wording here reflects the traditional image of Death personified as an all-consuming, ravenous entity, with a massive mouth/throat that seeks to swallow (devour) all things.

Verse 4 [3]

“YHWH shall support him upon (the) couch of (his) sickness,
every place of his lying down shall you turn over in his illness.”

This couplet gives some confirmation that the “enemies” of verse 3 [2] (as a collective or intensive plural) refer to death itself. We have encountered many Psalms where a life-threatening illness is involved, and that is clearly the focus here. The “day of evil” can take many forms, whereby the righteous are threatened and may be in danger of death; and, in the ancient world with its high rate of mortality, disease and illness frequently led to death. The promise here, continued from the opening verse, is that YHWH’s protection for the righteous will extend to help and healing in time of illness.

The shift from 3rd person to 2nd person may seem peculiar, but it is not at all uncommon in Near Eastern poetry. Here, we may view the shift as transitional to the Psalmist’s address to YHWH in verse 5 [4]. The verb Ep^h* often means “overturn”, but here it is perhaps better to keep to the fundamental meaning of “turn”, in the sense of turning (i.e. changing) the “couch of sickness” into something else—namely, a place of health and wholeness. Every place where the righteous lies down, there will be healing and life, rather than sickness and the threat of death.

Verse 5 [4]

“I said, ‘YHWH, show favor to me!
May you heal my soul,
for I have sinned against you!'”

This initial portion of the Psalm concludes with a plea to YHWH by the Psalmist. As is often the case, the Psalmist represents the righteous, and here the general Wisdom-sentiment of vv. 2-4 (i.e., instruction for the righteous) gives way to a personal appeal by a protagonist who personifies and embodies the righteous. Whether the author of the Psalm actually experienced such illness and suffering is beside the point; it is a topos that occurs repeatedly in the Psalms, and reflects an experience that would have been familiar to many faithful Israelites. As such, it relates to the common Wisdom-theme of the suffering of the righteous.

While illness could be viewed as an attack by a malevolent adversary, the monotheistic faith of the devout Israelite ultimately viewed YHWH Himself as the source of sickness and disease. Typically, it was thought as coming about as the result of sin—the disease being the punishment (by God) for such sin. Here the Psalmist admits that he has sinned against YHWH, recognizing that the illness that has struck him must be the result of his sin. It is a confession that is meant to demonstrate his faithfulness and devotion to YHWH, hoping (and expecting) that God will deliver him and remove the illness. He specifically prays that YHWH will heal (vb ap*r*) his soul (vp#n#, i.e., his life), but this concept of healing can have a deeper level of meaning as well, tied to the idea of repentance. In repenting of his sin, the Psalmist effectively asks that his life be made whole again, so that he can follow the path of God faithfully, avoiding any sinful ways that might turn him from the path.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).