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Theological Publications





New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash

Robert M. Price


A. Introduction

The line is thin between extrapolating new meanings from ancient scriptures (borrowing the authority of the old) and actually composing new scripture (or quasi-scripture) by extrapolating from the old. By this process of midrashic expansion grew the Jewish haggadah, new narrative commenting on old (scriptural) narrative by rewriting it. Haggadah is a species of hypertext, and thus it cannot be fully understood without reference to the underlying text on which it forms a kind of commentary. The earliest Christians being Jews, it is no surprise that they practiced haggadic expansion of scripture, resulting in new narratives partaking of the authority of the old. The New Testament gospels and the Acts of the Apostles can be shown to be Christian haggadah upon Jewish scripture, and these narratives can be neither fully understood nor fully appreciated without tracing them to their underlying sources, the object of the present article.

            Christian exegetes have long studied the gospels in light of Rabbinical techniques of biblical interpretation including allegory, midrash, and pesher. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls lent great impetus to the recognition of the widespread use among New Testament writers of the pesher technique whereby prophetic prooftexts for the divine preordination of recent of events was sought. Slower (but still steady) in coming has been the realization of the wide extent to which the stories comprising the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles are themselves the result of haggadic midrash upon stories from the Old Testament (as we may call it here in view of the Christian perspective on the Jewish canon  that concerns us). The New Testament writers partook of a social and religious environment in which currents of Hellenism and Judaism flowed together and interpenetrated in numerous surprising ways, the result of which was not merely the use of several versions of the Old Testament texts, in various languages, but also the easy switching back and forth between Jewish and Greek sources like Euripides, Homer, and Mystery Religion traditions.

            Earlier scholars (e.g., John Wick Bowman), as many today (e.g., J. Duncan M. Derrett), saw gospel echoes of the ancient scriptures in secondary coloring here or redactional juxtaposition of traditional Jesus stories there. But the more recent scrutiny of John Dominic Crossan, Randel Helms, Dale and Patricia Miller, and Thomas L. Brodie has made it inescapably clear that virtually the entirety of the gospel narratives and much of the Acts are wholly the product of haggadic midrash upon previous scripture. Earl Doherty has clarified the resultant understanding of the gospel writers’ methodology. It has been customary to suppose that early Christians began with a set of remarkable facts (whether few or many) and sought after the fact for scriptural predictions for them, the goal being to show that even though the founding events of their religion defied contemporary messianic expectation, they were nonetheless in better accord with prophecy, that recent events clarified ancient prophecy in retrospect. Thus modern scholars might admit that Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”) had to be taken out of context to provide a pedigree for the fact of Jesus’ childhood sojourn in Egypt, but that it was the story of the flight into Egypt that made early Christians go searching for the Hosea text. Now it is apparent, just to take this example, that the flight into Egypt is midrashic all the way down. That is, the words in Hosea 11:1 “my son,” catching the early Christian eye, generated the whole story, since they assumed such a prophecy about the divine Son must have had its fulfillment. And the more apparent it becomes that most gospel narratives can be adequately accounted for by reference to scriptural prototypes, Doherty suggests, the more natural it is to picture early Christians beginning with a more or less vague savior myth and seeking to lend it color and detail by anchoring it in a particular historical period and clothing it in scriptural garb. We must now envision proto-Christian exegetes “discovering” for the first time what Jesus the Son of God had done and said “according to the scriptures” by decoding the ancient texts. Today’s Christian reader learns what Jesus did by reading the gospels; his ancient counterpart learned what Jesus did by reading Joshua and 1 Kings. It was not a question of memory but of creative exegesis. Sometimes the signals that made particular scriptural texts attractive for this purpose are evident (like “my son” in Hosea 11:1), sometimes not. But in the end the result is a new perspective according to which we must view the gospels and Acts as analogous with the Book of Mormon, an inspiring pastiche of stories derived creatively from previous scriptures by a means of literary extrapolation.

            Our purpose here will be to review the bulk of the New Testament narratives, indicating in as brief a compass as possible how each has been derived from previous scripture. Mark will receive the most attention, as Matthew and Luke have used Mark as the basis of their narratives; there are fewer uniquely Matthean and Lukan items. John’s Gospel and the Acts will receive more selective treatment, too, as John generally cannibalizes the Synoptic Gospels (or their underlying traditions, if one prefers) rather than deriving its material anew directly from scripture. Acts likewise draws more from other sources or creates freely. To anticipate, we will see how virtually any scriptural source was fair game, though the favorite tendencies are to draw from the Exodus saga and the Elijah and Elisha cycles. For his part, Mark relied about as heavily on the Iliad and the Odyssey (perhaps seeing the parallel between the adventurous wanderings of both Exodus and the Odyssey as well as a punning resemblance between their titles, or between Odysseus and the odoV of the itinerant Jesus; see Watts, pp. 124-128).

            A far greater number of gospel-Old Testament coincidences have been proposed than we will consider here. We will only consider those rendered compelling by the existence of striking parallels at crucial or numerous points, ignoring many, more subtle, suggestions that scholars have proposed as secondary implications of their basic theories. The danger is otherwise great that, in seeking to spot the ancient writers’ own exegesis, we may ascribe to them our own creative midrash. What strikes our eye as an irresistible combination of fortuitous texts may not have occurred to them.


B. The Gospel of Mark

1. Introduction (1:1--3)

The syncretic flavor of Mark is at once evident from his reproduction of a piece of Augustan imperial propaganda and his setting it beside a tailored scripture quote. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” closely matches the formula found on a monument erected by the Provincial Assembly in Asia Minor (1st century BCE): “Whereas... Providence... has... brought our life to the peak of perfection in giving us Augustus Caesar... who, being sent to us and to our descendants as a savior..., and whereas... the birthday of the god has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel (euaggelion) concerning him, let all reckon a new era beginning from the date of his birth.” (Helms, p. 24) As is well known, Mark proceeds to introduce as from Isaiah a conflation of passages, Malachi 3:1a,  “Behold, I send my messenger/angel to prepare the way before me,” and Exodus 23:20a, “Behold, I send a [LXX: my] messenger/angel before you, to guard you on the way,” plus Isaiah 40:3, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The messenger/angel has been made to refer to John the Baptizer, while the speaker seems to be Jesus. The wilderness is no longer, as originally, the place where the way is to be paved, but rather the location of the crying prophetic voice, that of John. The Dead Sea Scrolls sect had used the same Isaiah passage to prooftext their own desert witness.


2. Jesus’ Baptism (1:9-11)

The scene in broad outline may derive from Zoroastrian traditions of the inauguration of Zoroaster’s ministry. Son of a Vedic priest, Zoroaster immerses himself in the river for purification, and as he comes up from the water, the archangel Vohu Mana appears to him, proffering a cup and commissions him to bear the tidings of the one God Ahura Mazda, whereupon the evil one Ahriman tempts him to abandon this call. In any case, the scene has received vivid midrashic coloring. The heavenly voice (bath qol) speaks a conflation of three scriptural passages. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) combines bits and pieces of Psalm 2:7, the divine coronation decree, “You are my son. Today I have begotten you;” Isaiah 42:1, the blessing on the returning Exiles, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;” and Genesis 22:12 (LXX), where the heavenly voices bids Abraham to sacrifice his “beloved son.” And as William R. Stegner points out, Mark may have in mind a Targumic tradition whereby Isaac, bound on the altar, looks up into heaven and sees the heavens opened with angels and the Shekinah of God, a voice proclaiming, “Behold, two chosen ones, etc.” There is even the note that the willingness of Isaac to be slain may serve to atone for Israel’s sins. Here is abundant symbolism making Jesus king, servant, and atoning sacrifice.

            In view of parallels elsewhere between John and Jesus on the one hand and Elijah and Elisha on the other, some (Miller, p. 48) also see in the Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.


3. The Temptations (Mark 1:12-13)

The forty days of Jesus in the wilderness recall both Moses’ period of forty years in the desert of Midian before returning to Egypt (Bowman, p. 109) and the forty-day retreat of Elijah to the wilderness after the contest with Baal’s prophets (1 Kings 19:5-7), where Elijah, like Jesus, is ministered unto by angels (Miller, p. 48). The Q tradition shared by Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13) and possibly abridged by Mark, plays off the Exodus tradition in yet another way. Jesus resists the devil’s blandishments by citing three texts from Deuteronomy, 8:3; 6:16; 6:13, all of which refer to trials of the people of Israel in the wilderness (the manna, Massa, and idolatry), which they failed, but which Jesus, embodying a new Israel, passes with flying colors.


4. Commencement of the Ministry (1:14-15)

Only once he has completed the ordeal in the wilderness does Jesus begin his preaching of the near advent of the Kingdom of God. Bowman rightly observes the parallel to Moses leaving the wilderness, with Aaron, to announce to the children of Israel in the house of bondage that liberation would soon be theirs. (ibid.).


5. Recruitment of the First Disciples (1:16-20)

As Bowman suggests (p. 157), Jesus summons James and John as well as Peter and Andrew, two pairs of brothers, as a gospel counterpart to Moses’ recruiting his own unsuspecting brother Aaron at the analogous point in the Exodus story (4:27-28). But the events, minimal as they are, come from Elijah’s recruitment of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21. Likewise, the calling of Levi in Mark 2:14. All are said to have abandoned their family livelihoods on the spot to follow the prophet.


6. Exorcism at Capernaum (1:21-28)

Mark has set this first teaching and exorcism of Jesus at the town called Capernaum (“Village of Nahum”) to hint at Nahum 1:15a, the only passage outside of Isaiah to use the term euaggelizomenou in a strictly religious sense. “Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that brings glad tidings and publishes peace!” For Mark, that is of course Jesus. And so what better town for him to have begun bearing these gospel tidings than that of Nahum? (Miller, p. 58)

            The rude heckling of the local demoniac, “What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are -- the Holy One of God!,” comes directly from the defensive alarm of the Zarephath widow in 1 Kings 17:18: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” (Miller, p. 76).


7. Peter’s Mother-in-Law (1:29-31)

This episode, too, is cut from the cloth of Elijah’s mantle. In 1 Kings 17:8-16, Elijah meets the widow of Zarephath and her son, and he delivers them from imminent starvation. As a result she serves the man of God. In 2 Kings 4, Elisha raises from the dead the son of the Shunammite woman, who had served him. Mark has reshuffled these elements so that this time it is the old woman herself who is raised up from her illness, not her son, who is nonetheless important to the story (Peter), and she serves the man of God, Jesus. (Miller, 79).


8. The Healing of a Leper (1:40-45)

Bowman (p. 113) has suggested, with some plausibility, that the cleansing of this leper, placed thus early in Mark’s story, is meant to recall the credential miracle vouchsafed by God to Moses, whereby he could turn his hand leprous white (Exodus 4:6-7). Jesus himself cannot manifest leprosy, even momentarily, perhaps, because he must remain the spotless lamb of God without blemish.


9. Healing the Paralytic (2:1-12)

As Roth (p. 56) shows, this story of a paralyzed man’s friends tearing the thatch off a roof and lowering him to Jesus amid the crowd seems to be based on an Elijah story in 2 Kings 1:2-17a, where King Ahaziah gains his affliction by falling from his roof through the lattice and languishes in bed. Mark’s sufferer is already afflicted when he descends through the roof on his bed (pallet). He rises from his bed because whatever sin of his had earned him the divine judgment of paralysis was now pronounced forgiven on account of his friends’ faith, though nothing is said of his own. King Ahaziah is pointedly not healed of his affliction because of his own pronounced lack of faith in the God of Israel: he had sent to the priests of the Philistine oracle god Baal-zebub to inquire as to his prospects. Elijah tells him he is doomed because of unbelief, a dismal situation reversed by Mark, who has Jesus grant forgiveness and salvation because of faith. Mark has preserved the Baal-zebub element for use in a later story (3:22).


10. The Withered Hand (3:1-6)

Mark has borrowed the substance of this scene from the miracle of the Judean prophet of 1 Kings 13:1-7ff (Helms, pp. 90-91). There the prophet confronts King Jeroboam in the Bethel temple and predicts Judean King Josiah’s destruction of the rival altar. For this blasphemy Jeroboam orders his arrest, with surprising results: “the king stretched forth his hand (exeteinen... thn ceira autou) from the altar, saying, ‘Take hold of him!’ and his hand which he stretched forth against him withered (echraqh), and he could not draw it back to himself” (v.4). In Mark, the man is a nobody, but the authorities are nonetheless present in the house of worship and waiting to pounce. The man’s hand is already withered (echrammenhn) when Jesus calls him out. “’Stretch out your hand!’ He stretched it out (thn ceira... eceteinen), and his hand was restored” (Mark 3:5). The anonymous prophet, too, heals the sufferer: “And King Jeroboam said to the man of God, ‘Entreat the Lord your God, and let my hand be restored to me.’ And the man of God entreated the Lord, and he restored the king’s hand to him, and it became as before” (1 Kings 13:6 LXX). Whereas the withering and healing were the aftermath of the villains’ attempt to arrest the prophet in 1 Kings, in Mark it is the healing of the withered hand which makes the villains plot to arrest him: “The Phariseees went out and immediately took council with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (3:6).


11. Choosing the Twelve; Embassy of Relatives (3:13-35)

We must imagine that previous to Mark someone had midrashically rewritten the story of Moses heeding Jethro’s advice to name subordinates, resulting in a scene in which choosing the twelve disciples was the idea of the Holy Family of Jesus. Note the similarities between Mark 3 and Exodus 18. Just as Moses’ father-in-law Jethro hears of Moses’ successes and brings Moses’ wife and sons to him (Exodus 18:1-5), so do the mothers and brothers of Jesus hear reports and journey to meet Jesus (Mark 3:21). Moses is constantly surrounded by suppliants (18:13-18), just like Jesus (3:20). Just as Moses’ arriving family is announced (“Lo, your father-in-law Jethro is coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her” 18:6), so is Jesus’ (“Behold, your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you,” 3:31-32). “Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare, and went into the tent” (Exodus 18:7). Originally we would have read of Jesus’ welcoming his family. And as Jethro voices his concern for the harried Moses, suggesting he share the burden with a number of helpers (18:21-22), so we would have read that James or Mary advised the choice of assistants “that they might be with him, and that he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). And Jesus would only then have named the Twelve.

            Mark, acting in the interest of a church-political agenda, has broken the story into two and reversed its halves so as to bring dishonor on the relatives of Jesus (representing a contemporary faction claiming their authority) and to take from them the credit for naming the Twelve (which is also why he emphasizes that Jesus “summoned those that he himself wanted,” i.e., it was all his own idea. As the text now reads, Jesus chooses the disciples, and only subsequently do his interfering relatives arrive harboring doubts about his sanity, and he rebuffs them (Mark 3:33-35).

            Jesus, however, does not, like Moses, choose seventy (though Luke will restore this number, Luke 10:1), but only twelve, based on the choice of the twelve spies  in Deuteronomy 1:23 (Miller, p. 117).

            Sandwiched into the middle of this material is a controversy between Jesus and his scribal critics who allege that he performs his exorcisms only by virtue of being in league with Beel-zebul. Some manuscripts read “Beel-zebub,” harking back to 2 Kings 1:2, 3. “Beel-zebul” denotes “Lord of the House,” i.e., of the world, a powerful patron of exorcists, while “Beel-zebub” means “Lord of the Flies,” denoting an oracle, since the priests would hear a sound like buzzing, the voice of spirits telling the desired fortune. Jesus’ reply to the charge seems to come from Isaiah 49:24 (Watts, pp. 148-149) (“Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? Surely thus says the LORD: Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children.”) and from 1 Samuel 2:25 (“If a man sins against a man, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?”) (Miller, p. 136).

            Matthew and Luke (hence the Q source) make an interesting addition to Jesus’ response to the scribes. Luke’s, as usual, is probably closer to the Q original: “If I by Beel-zebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently, they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:19-20). Compressed into these verses is an unmistakeable midrash upon the Exodus story of Moses’ miracle contest with the magicians of Pharaoh. Initially able to match Moses feat for feat, they prove incapable of copying the miracle of the gnats and warn Pharaoh to give in, since “This is the finger of God” and no mere sorcery like theirs (Exodus 8:19). The “sons” of the scribes correspond to the Egyptian magicians and can dispell the scribes’ charge against Jesus if they would. 


12. The Stilling of the Storm (4:35-41)

Helms (pp. 76, 77) demonstrates how this story has been rewritten from Jonah’s adventure, with additions from certain of the Psalms. The basis for the story can be recognized in Jonah 1:4-6, “But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god... But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we do not perish.” Once Jonah turns out to be the guilty party, they throw him into the maw of the sea, “and the sea ceased from its raging. The men feared the LORD exceedingly” (1:15b-16a). See also Psalm 107:23-29: “Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to the heavens, they went down unto the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men, and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” 

            Mark was aware of a similar episode in the Odyssey 10:1-69, in which Odysseus set sail with his dozen ships from the Isle of Aeolus, the god of winds. Aeolus had given Odysseus a bag containing mighty winds in case he should be stalled in the doldrums. Odysseus falls asleep in the hold, and his men sneak a peek into the bag, letting the winds escape. The ships managed to survive the storm, but Odysseus rebuked his crew for their dangerous folly. MacDonald (pp. 68, 174-175) indicates the origin of Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples here (Mark 1:40), as well as the puzzling detail in Mark 1:36 that Jesus and the disciples were accompanied by “other boats.” It makes no sense in Mark and must be understood as a vestige of the Odyssey.


13. The Gerasene Demoniac (5:1-20)

Again, Mark has mixed together materials from scripture and from the Odyssey. Clearly, as MacDonald shows (pp. 65, 73, 173), the core of the story derives from Odyssey 9:101-565. Odysseus and his men come to shore in the land of the hulking Cyclopes, just as Jesus and his disciples arrive by boat in the land of the Gerasenes (or Gergesenes, supposedly the remnant of the ancient Girgashites, hence possibly associated with the mythical Anakim/Rephaim, Derrett, p. 102, who were giants). Goats graze in one landscape, pigs in the other. Leaving their boats, each group immediately encounters a savage man-monster who dwells in a cave. The demoniac is naked, and Polyphemus was usually depicted naked, too. The Cyclops asks Odysseus if he has come with intent to harm him, just as the Gerasene demoniac begs Jesus not to torment him. Polyphemus asks Odysseus his name, and the latter replies “Noman,” while Jesus asks the demoniac his name, “Legion,” a name reminiscent of the fact that Odysseus’ men were soldiers. Jesus expels the legion of demons, sending them into the grazing swine, recalling Circe’s earlier transformation of Odysseus’ troops into swine. Odysseus contrives to blind the Cyclops, escaping his cave. The heroes depart, and the gloating Odysseus bids Polyphemus to tell others how he has blinded him, just as Jesus tells the cured demoniac to tell how he has exorcised him. As Odysseus’ boat retreats, Polyphemus cries out for him to return, but he refuses. As Jesus is about to depart, the man he cured asks to accompany him, but he refuses. As MacDonald notes, sheer copying from the source is about the only way to explain why Jesus should be shown refusing a would-be disciple.

            Psalm 107, whence details of the stilling of the storm were borrowed, has also made minor contributions to this story as well. The detail of the demoniac having been chained up seem to come from Psalm 107’s description of “prisoners in irons” (v. 10), who “wandered in desert wastes” (v. 4) and “cried to the LORD in their trouble” (v. 6), who “broke their chains asunder” (v. 14). It is also possible that Mark had in mind the Exodus sequence, and that he has placed the story here to correspond to the drowning of the Egyptian hosts in the Sea.


14. Jairus’ Daughter and the Woman with the Issue of Blood (5:21-24, 35-43)

Under the long-regnant paradigm of form-criticism this story was considered to be a complex of two prior tradition-units sandwiched together by Mark, and indeed it is easy to divide them into two distinct episodes. The story of Jairus and his daughter (vv. 21-23, 35-43, the phrase “while he was still speaking” referring originally to Jairus in v. 23) and that of the bleeding woman (vv. 24b-34), Mark having to add only 24a to tape the two together. But the more we recognize Mark’s creative sophistication and view him as a real author, not just a scissors-and-paste editor as the form critics did, the more likely it seems that the two anecdotes began life as interdependent parts of a single story, a retelling of that of Elisha and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4). The Shunammite, a mother, has been replaced by a father, whose name Jairus means “he will awaken,” winking to the readers as to the fictive character of the tale. Jairus, like his prototype, approaches the prophet abjectly pleading for help. The prophet, whether Jesus or Elisha, determines to go and raise the child despite the report that the child is already dead. Arriving, he seeks privacy (relative or absolute: Elisha excludes everyone, Jesus the crowd). He touches and speaks to the dead child, and the child rouses. The reaction is verbally almost verbatim. The Shunammite is “ecstatic with all this ecstasy” (exesthsaV... pasan thn ekstasin tauthn, 2 Kings 4:31 LXX), while Jairus and his wife are “ecstatic with great ecstasy” (exesthsan... ekstasei megalh, Mark 5:42) (Helms, p. 66).

            But what about the woman with the hemorrhage? She is the Shunammite, doubled! Jesus heals her of a reproductive problem just as Elisha had miraculously made it possible for the Shunammite to conceive. The woman had been plagued with the bleeding for twelve years, exactly the age of Jairus’ daughter, the symbolic implication being that she was the daughter the bleeding woman had never been able to have, now, so to speak, restored to her. Why did Mark break up the story this way? For the most elementary of reasons: to provide narrative suspense, just as in the 2 Kings original, where we must follow the woman on the journey to Elisha and then endure the failed attempt of Gehazi to raise her son. As we will see, Mark liked the element of the disciple’s failure, but instead of using it here, which would have made the story even more like its prototype, he has reserved it till later, in 9:18, 28.

            The element of Jesus’ healing energy being released upon contact, even without his say-so, may have been suggested by the story in 2 Kings 13:20-21, where a corpse, hastily stashed in Elisha’s open mausoleum, strikes the bones of the prophet and is restored to life and vigor!


15. Rejection at Home (6:1-6)

Miller and Miller (p. 167) point to 1 Samuel 10:1-27 as the likely source of Mark’s episode of Jesus’ frosty reception among his own townsfolk. Saul, newly appointed king of his people, is overcome by the prophetic afflatus and begins to speak in tongues (“prophesy,” v. 10), whereupon “all who knew him previously” retort, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul, too, among the prophets?” “Who is their father?” (v. 11). The upshot is that ”it became a proverb, ‘Is Saul, too, among the prophets?’” (v. 12). Just so, in Mark the people who had long known the local boy, now ostensibly a prophet, cannot believe it and raise the issue of Jesus’ too-familiar family connections: a prophet must come from out of nowhere, not someone like us (cf. John 7:27-28, “’When the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.’ ...’You know me and you know where I come from, but I have not come of my own accord;’” James 5:17, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ourselves.”). Jesus is merely the son of Mary and brother to James, Joses, Simon and Judas, just as Saul is nothing more than Kish’s son. There is even the matching proverb in the case of Jesus: “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his relatives and in his household.”


16. Mission Instructions (6:7-13)

These marching orders may have been influenced by the practices of Cynic preachers, but in their present form they surely owe something to the Elisha stories. When Jesus forbids the missioners to “take along money nor two cloaks,” he is warning them not to repeat Gehazi’s fatal error, aggrandizing himself at the expense of those the prophet serves; he had, unauthorized by Elisha, exacted from Naaman “a talent of silver and two cloaks” (2 Kings 5:22). (Roth, p. 50; Miller, p. 175). The provision of a staff (Mark 6:8) may come from Gehazi’s mission for Elisha to the Shunammite’s son: “take my staff in your hand and go” (2 Kings 4:29a). Luke must have recognized this, since he returned to the same text to add to his own mission charge to the seventy (Luke 10:4b) the stipulation “and salute no one on the road,” borrowed directly from Elisha’s charge to Gehazi in 2 Kings 4:29b, “If you meet anyone, do not salute him, and if anyone salutes you, do not reply.”


17. The Death of the Baptizer (6:14-29)

In view of the preceding parallels, it is hardly a surprise that Mark would have people inferring that Jesus is the returned Elijah. Indeed, their opinion is righter than Mark lets on!

            Usually scholars allow some core of historical reporting to underlie the story of the Baptizer’s death (though any reading of Mark must be harmonized with some difficulty with Josephus), recognizing just a bit of biblical embellishment to the narrative. For instance, it is apparent to all that Herod Antipas’ words to his step-daughter, “Whatever you ask of me I will give it to you, up to half my kingdom,” comes from Esther 5:3. Herod’s painting himself into the corner of having to order the execution of his favorite prophet may come from Darius’ bamboozlement in the case of Daniel (Daniel 6:6-15) (Miller, p. 178). But it is possible that the whole tale comes from literary sources.

            MacDonald (pp. 80-81, 176) shows how the story of John’s martyrdom matches in all essentials the Odyssey’s story of the murder of Agamemnon (3:254-308: 4:512-547; 11:404-434), even to the point that both are told in the form of an analepsis or flashback. Herodias, like Queen Clytemnestra, left her husband, preferring his cousin: Antipas in the one case, Aegisthus in the other. This tryst was threatened, in Clytemnestra’s case, by the return of her husband from the Trojan War, in Herodias’, by the denunciations of John. In both cases, the wicked adulteress plots the death of the nuisance. Aegisthus hosted a banquet to celebrate Agamemnon’s return, just as Herod hosted a feast. During the festivities Agamemnon is slain, sprawling amid the dinner plates, and the Baptizer is beheaded, his head displayed on a serving platter. Homer foreshadows danger awaiting the returning Odysseus with the story of Agamemnon’s murder, while Mark anticipates Jesus’ own martyrdom with that of John. The only outstanding difference, of course, is that in Mark’s version, the role of Agamemnon has been split between Herodias’ rightful husband (Philip according to Mark; another Herod according to Josephus) and John the Baptizer.


18. Multiplication of Loaves and Fish (6:30-44; 8:1-10)

As all acknowledge, the basis for both the miraculous feeding stories in Mark’s gospel is the story of Elisha multiplying the twenty barley loaves for a hundred men in 2 Kings 4:42-44. There is in all three stories the initial assessment of how much food is available, the prophetic command to divide it among a hopelessly large number, the skeptical objection, puzzled obedience, and the astonishing climax in which not only all are fed, but they had leftovers as well! As Helms notes (p. 76), John has gone back to the source to add a detail. He has made the servant (paidarion) of Elisha into a boy (paidarion) whose five barley loaves Jesus uses to feed the crowd (John 6:9).

            But there are more elaborate details in Mark’s stories which do not come from 2 Kings. They come from the Odyssey 3:34-38, 63-68; 4:30, 36, 51, 53-58, 65-68 (MacDonald, pp. 89-90). The reason Mark has two feeding miracles is to emulate Homer, who has Odysseus’ son Telemachus attend two feasts, and Mark has borrowed details from both. For the first feast, Telemachus and the disguised Athena sail to Pylos where King Nestor is presiding at a feast in honor of Poseidon. It is a sailors’ feast, so only men are present. Four thousand, five hundred of them are seated in nine units of five hundred each. Everyone ate to satiety and there were leftovers. In Mark’s first feast story, Jesus and his men also sail to the site of the meal. They encounter a group of five thousand men, andreV, males (no explanation is offered for this, a simple vestige of Homer). Jesus has them sit in discrete groups. After the Elisha-style miracle, everyone eats and is filled, and leftovers are gathered.

            Homer’s second feast witnesses Telemachus going overland to Sparta, just as in Mark’s second episode, Jesus and the disciples walk to Galilee, where he meets the crowd of four thousand. This time, in both stories, there is no restriction to males. A servant of King Menelaus bids him send Telemachus and his companion away unfed, but the king will not, just as a disciple urges Jesus to send away the hapless crowd, and he will not. Everyone sits down to eat, in both cases, and in neither is there any mention of the elaborate arrangement of the diners as in the first feast scene. All are filled; leftovers are gathered. Mark has seemingly cast Jesus as Telemachus in both stories until the hero arrives at the banquet scene, whereupon he switches roles, having Jesus take the place of the hosts, Nestor and Menelaus.


19. Walking on the Sea (6:45-52)

Though scriptural coloring is again in evidence (Psalm 107 [LXX: 106]: 23-30; Job 9:8b, “who... trampled the waves of the sea”), the body of the story Mark owes to Homer, this time the Iliad 24:332, 340-341, 345-346, 351-352 (MacDonald, pp. 148-153). Old King Priam is making the difficult journey to the Greek camp to beg the body of his son Hector. Father Zeus beholds the king’s toiling progress and dispatches Hermes, guide to travelers, to aid him. “Under his feet he fastened the supple sandals, never-fading gold, that wing him over the waves and boundless earth with the rush of gusting winds... {Hermes] flew, the mighty giant-killer, touching down on Troy and the Hellespont in no time and from there he went on foot.” As Hermes approaches Priam and his servant, they fear he is a brigand who will slay them, but he reassures them, takes the reins of their mule cart and speeds them on their way, reaching Achilles’ ship in no time flat. Finally he reveals his identity: “Old man, I am a god come down to you. I am immortal Hermes - my Father sent me here to be your escort, but now I will hasten back.” Can anyone miss the parallel to Mark’s story? The disciples are making poor headway against the storm on their way to the far shore when they see the approaching Jesus, a sight inspiring fear, albeit for different reasons. They see him waking on the water, something Hermes also does to reach Priam, though without the latter seeing him do it. Once their divine visitor reassures them with a declaration (“I am...”), he joins them and they arrive at once at their destination.

            Bowman (p.159) picks up the thread of the Exodus story with the mention of the disciples’ obtuseness in Mark 6:52. They are said not to understand the feat they have just seen--because they had failed to learn anything from the miraculous feeding! The linking of the two would have to imply a reference back to a different but related pair of Moses’ miracles, the dryshod passage over the Sea and the provision of the manna. Despite seeing these, the children of Israel remained obdurate in their unbelief. Likewise the disciples. “Their hearts were hardened,” just like Pharaoh’s. The point is underscored, one might say too broadly, in 8:14-21 (Bowman, p. 180).


20. Jesus versus the Scribes (7:1-23)

In debate with the scribes over purity rules, Jesus is made to cite the LXX of Isaiah 29:13, the Hebrew original of which would not really make the required point. Less obviously, there is also a significant reference to Elijah in v. 14, “and summoning the multitude again, he said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand.’” Here we are to discern a reflection of Elijah’s gesture in 1 Kings 18: 30, “Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come near to me;’ and all the people came near to him.” Elijah then restored the fallen altar of God and prepared for the miracle which would win the people back from idolatrous compromise with Baalism. We must infer that Mark regards the Judaism of the scribes as on a par with Baalism as a false religion which consistent Christians must shun. His point is much like that of Paul in Galatians, appealing to Christian readers to forswear Torah-observance.


21. The Syro-Phoenician Woman (7:24-30)

Jesus meets a foreign woman in the district of Tyre and Sidon, who requests his help for her child, and we find ourselves back with Elijah and widow of Sidonian Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:8-16. There the prophet encounters the foreigner and does a miracle for her and her son. In both cases the miracle is preceded by a tense interchange between the prophet and the woman in which the prophet raises the bar to gauge the woman’s faith. The Syrophoenician parries Jesus’ initial dismissal with a clever comeback; the widow of Zarephath is bidden to take her remaining meal and to cook it up for Elijah first, whereupon the meal is indefinitely multiplied (Roth, pp. 51-52; Miller, pp. 196-197).

            Why does Jesus call the poor woman and her daughter, by implication, dogs? Mark has taken it from 2 Kings 8:7-15, where Elisha tells Hazael (a Syrian, like the woman in Mark), that he will succeed Ben-Hadad to the throne of Aram. He replies, “What is your servant, the dog, that he should accomplish this great thing?” In Mark, the question is whether the great deed shall be done for the “dog” (Roth, p. 44).


22. Healing of the Deaf and the Blind (7:31-37; 8:22-26)

Bowman (p. 172) makes Mark 7:31-38 a midrash upon Isaiah 29:18 (“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see”) and Isaiah 35:5-6 (“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy”). We probably ought to add the episodes of the blind man of Bethsaida (8:22-26) and of Bar-Timaeus (10:46-52), who leaped up to follow Jesus, as midrashic fulfilments of the same texts. In the case of the blind man of Mark 8, we also have to reckon with influence from Genesis 19:11-13, where the angels of God blind the Sodomite welcoming committee and warn Lot and his family to flee the doomed city. The gospel tradition writes off Bethsaida for its lack of responsiveness. In Matthew 11:24 its fate is likened to Sodom’s. The blind man of Bethsaida, then, is healed of the Sodomites’ blindness and sent, like Lot, to escape the doomed city’s eventual destruction.

            Up to the acclamation of the crowd in v. 37, “He does all things well,” implying he has passed some sort of milestone, Jesus has performed a total of sixteen miracles, meeting the quota set by Elisha, who himself doubled the number ascribed to his master Elijah. Jesus will go on to perform another eight (Roth, pp. 5-7).


23. The Transfiguration (9:1-13)

Jesus’ ascent of the unnamed mountain and his transfiguration there is, of course, Mark’s version of Moses’ ascent of Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the Torah and his shining visage in Exodus 24 and 34:29. As Bowman notes (p. 190), the Markan introduction, “And six days later” (9:2), must be understood as a pointer to the Exodus account. God calls Moses up the mountainside to receive the tablets (Exodus 24:12), and he takes Joshua with him (v. 13). Once they make the climb, the glory cloud covers the height for six days (v. 16), and on the seventh the divine voice calls to Moses from the depth of the cloud. Mark has apparently foreshortened the process.

            The glowing apparition of Jesus is most obviously derived from that of Moses in Exodus 34:29, but as Derrett (p. 159) points out, we must not miss the influence of Malachi 3:2, especially since Elijah, too, appears: “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap.” This, then, is the prophesied return of Elijah, and Jesus’ garments glow white “like no fuller on earth could have bleached them” (Mark 9:3).

            Jesus appears like Moses, yet with Moses. He is the predicted prophet like Moses from Deuteronomy 18:15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers. Him you shall heed.” The heavenly voice reiterates this commandment in Mark 9:7, “This is my beloved son; listen to him” (Bowman, p. 193).

            Derrett (p. 155) further traces the admonition of Jesus to conceal news of the vision till the Son of Man be raised from the dead (9:9) to similar warnings in Daniel 12:4a (“But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the end.”) and Zephaniah 3:8a, LXX (“Therefore wait upon me, saith the Lord, until the day when I rise up as a witness.”).

            Scholars have puzzled over the intended reference when Mark has Jesus speak in v. 13 of prophetic writings detailing the sufferings of Elijah in his avatar as John the Baptizer. Does he refer to some writing that did not survive in the canon? The pseudepigraphical Apocalypse of Elijah gives no help. But we need not search so far afield. By now it is evident that the reference must be to the Elijah (and Elisha) tales of 1 and 2 Kings, which Mark took as a quarry of information about Jesus and John.


24. The Deaf-Mute Epileptic (9:14-29)

Coming as it does following Jesus’ descent of the mountain of transfiguration, this episode seems to be intended as an analogue for the Golden Calf incident in Exodus 32 (Bowman, p. 199; Miller, p. 232). Moses is away with one of his lieutenants, Joshua, leaving Aaron in charge, and when he returns Aaron has completely lost control of the situation, treading the path of least resistance to idolatrous ruin. The conversion of Exodus’ idol into Mark’s demon is an easy one, given the later Jewish belief that “what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God” (1 Corinthians 10:20a). So Jesus and his inner circle return from the mountain to find the rest of the disciples making a bad show of things, unable to cast the demon out of a boy and facing the scorn of the crowd and his enemies.

            And yet the conclusion is different, with only a mild rebuke to the unsuccessful disciples. While the punchline instructs early Christian exorcists to make sure they devote ample prayer to such cases in future, the clear lesson is that it takes nothing short of the man of God himself to do the deed, and here Mark connects again with the story of Elisha and the Shunammite (2 Kings 4). There Elisha dispatched his disciple Gehazi with his own potent staff to restore the Shunammite’s dead son, but he could not (2 Kings 4:31). The disciple did nothing wrong; it was just that the ultimate power was required, and Elisha succeeded where Gehazi failed (2 Kings 4:32-35), simply because he was Elisha and Gehazi was not. Even so, in Mark, Jesus is irreplaceable because he is the divine hero of the story. 


25. Jockeying for Position (9:33-37)

This passage has long roots reaching back to the Pentateuchal disputes between Moses on the one hand and Aaron and Miriam on the other (Numbers 12), or perhaps Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16) (Bowman, p. 205). These others covet Moses’ special position before God and make trouble over it, but God himself intervenes to settle the issue in Moses’ favor, just as Jesus does here. God preferred Moses as a leader precisely because he did not seek power: he “was very meek, more than all the men that were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3) (Miller, p. 239), the same qualification Jesus stipulates for anyone who aims to be a leader among his flock (Mark 9:35).


26. The Independent Exorcist, etc. (9:38--50)

Mark returns to the same portion of Numbers for this story. The man casting out demons outside of Jesus’ retinue, intimidating poor John, is based directly on Eldad and Medad, members of the seventy elders who stayed in the camp when the rest followed Moses to the Tent of Meaning to receive prophetic inspiration (Numbers 11:24-30). John is a renamed Joshua who protested that “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp,” i.e., “not following us” (Mark 9:38). Jesus is depicted as being fully as broad-minded as Moses, happy to acknowledge the work of God where ever he hears of it (Bowman, p. 206; Miller, p. 242).

            Among other attached preachments, v.41, “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name of Christ, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward,” especially as it is directly followed by a mention of children and their perils, recalls the story of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:10), of whom Elijah requested a drink. The reward? He saved her and her son from starvation (Miller, p. 241).

            The warnings of hellfire to come (vv. 43-48) depend verbatim on Isaiah 66:24.


27. Blessing Children (10:13-16)

Jesus is indignant with the well-meaning but insensitive disciples who chase away parents approaching Jesus for his benediction on their infants. (“Don’t shove that baby in the Saviour’s face!” Monty Python’s Life of Brian of Nazareth, p. 124). Is it too much to suggest that Mark modeled the scene on a similar one in 2 Kings 4, again, the story of Elisha and the Shunammite? “And when she came to the mountain, to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to thrust her away. But the man of God said, ‘Let her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me’” (v. 27). The cause of her distress, of course, is the death of her son, and she seeks Elisha’s divine blessing to restore him to life. Mark has generalized the scene and, so to speak, lowered the stakes, having matched the urgency and poignancy of the original in his Jairus story back in chapter 5.


28. The Request of James and John (10:32-45)

The whole episode comes right out of that of Elisha’s request of Elijah just before his ascension, only Mark’s version reflects badly on James and John. The structure is exactly the same (Miller, p. 253). Jesus has just announced for the third time his impending death and resurrection, prompting the brothers to venture, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we may ask of you... Grant that we may sit in your glory, one at your right, one at your left” (Mark 10:35, 37). This comes from 2 Kings 2:9, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.”  Hearing the request, Elijah reflects, “You have asked a hard thing” (v. 10), just as Jesus warns James and John, “You do not know what you are asking for.” The Elijah-Elisha story cements the “apostolic succession” from one prophet to the other, whereas Mark’s rewrite seems to pass over the two disciples to open the possibility of succession to anyone willing to follow Jesus (sacramentally?) along the way of martyrdom.


29. Blind Bar-Timaeus (10:46-52)

As already noted, this story puts flesh on the skeleton of LXX Isaiah 35:5a, 6a, 8a: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened... then shall the lame man leap like a hart... And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way” (Miller, pp. 263-264). Thus Bar-Timaeus leaps up, is given his sight, and follows Jesus on the way. That he is not only blind but a beggar may come from the possible meaning of his name, as Derrett (p. 185) decodes it from Aramaic Bar-teymah, “son of poverty.” In this, the fictive nature of the story is doubly clear.

            MacDonald suggests (pp. 97-99) that Mark has created Bar-Timaeus as a Christian Tiresias, the blind seer of the Odyssey, since Bar-Timaeus distinguishes himself by spiritual insight; he recognizes Jesus as Son of David (Mark 10:48).


30. Preparation for the Entry and the Supper (11:1-6; 14:12-16)

Both these stories, parallel to one another, alike derive from 1 Samuel chapter 9 (Miller, p. 325; Derrett, p. 187). Kish sends two men, his son Saul and a servant (1 Samuel 9:3), just as Jesus sends two disciples on each of these missions (Mark 11:1; 14:13). Saul and his companion were to find some runaway asses (9:3), while the disciples are to find a particular ass’s colt (11:2). When Saul and the servant reach the city they are met by young women coming out to draw water (9:11); Jesus’ disciples are told to look for a man carrying water (14:13). Like Saul and his companion, the two pairs enter the city. Saul and the other are told they will find the man they seek, the prophet Samuel, as soon as they enter the city (9:13), as Jesus tells his men they will find the colt tied as soon as they enter the city (11:2). All transpires as predicted (9:6; 11:4; 14:16). Saul asks “Where is the house of the seer?” (9:18). Jesus tells the disciples to ask, “Where is my guest room?” (14:14). As in 9:20, Saul is told the missing asses have been located, so in 11:6 does Jesus say to assure the owner that his borrowed colt will be returned. In 9:19 Samuel oversees the preparation of a feast, and in 14:16 the disciples prepare the Passover.

            The upper room of the Last Supper may also hark back to the second-story rooms provided for Elijah (1 Kings 17:19) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:10) by benefactors (Miller, p. 331), one of whom Elijah first met by asking a drink of water from a woman God told him would provide for him (1 Kings 17:9,10. He met her at the city gate, just as Jesus told the disciples to meet a man carrying water in a vessel as soon as they entered the city.)


31. The Entry into Jerusalem (11:7-11)      

Though Mark does not make it explicit, it is evident that the scene of Jesus entering the holy city on donkeyback is a fleshing out of Zechariah 9:9. The actions and words of the crowd come right from Psalm 118:26-27, “Blessed is he who enters in the name of the LORD! ... Bind the festal procession with branches...” “Hosanna in the highest” comes from the Hebrew or Aramaic of “Save now!” in Psalm 118:25 and from Psalm 148 LXX: “Praise him in the highest!” (Helms, p. 104). Of course the Psalm offers its blessings on any pilgrim into the holy city.


32. Cursing the Fig Tree (11:12-14, 20)

As anyone can see, the tree is made to stand for unrepentant Jerusalem, and the episode is then seen (Miller, pp. 274-275) to stem from Psalm 37:35-36, “I have seen a wicked man overbearing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon. Again I passed by, and, lo, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found.” Here is the source of Jesus seeking figs on the tree but finding none, and of the note that it was in passing the spot again they discovered the tree blasted.


33. Cleansing the Temple (1:15-18)

Jesus’ overthrow of the Temple service (not only does he scatter the livestock for offerings but somehow bans anyone carrying sacrificial vessels) is historically impossible as it reads here. The envisioned area is huge, and for Jesus to commandeer it like this would have required a military raid, something of which Mark’s text seems oblivious. Though it is not unlikely that the story preserves some faded memory of the entry of Simon bar-Gioras into the Temple to clean out the robbers of John of Giscala on the eve of the Temple’s destruction, the story may simply conflate various scripture passages, which it seems to do in any case. The “cleansing” must have in view that of Malachi’s messenger of the covenant who will purify the sons of Levi (3:1-3, as hinted by Mark 1:2 and 9:3), as well as the oracle of Zechariah 14:21b, “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.” The saying of Jesus on that occasion is merely a conflation of Isaiah 56:7 (“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”) and Jeremiah 7:11 (“Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?”). The priests and scribes react to this disturbance by plotting to destroy Jesus, just as the priests, prophets, and people lay hold of Jeremiah and cry out, “You shall die!” when he likewise predicts the destruction of the city and the Temple (26:8) (Miller, p. 274).


34. The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (12:1-12)

All commentators call attention to the use of Isaiah 5:1-7 in this parable, and that surely is to account for one of its principal sources. MacDonald (p. 37) identifies the other in the Odyssey, where we discover the source (here and in other parables) of the absentee owner having left servants in charge of his estate while he is away on a long trip. The servants are not wicked, but the suitors are, the men who, assuming the long-absent Odysseus is dead, flock to his palace to woo his “widow” Penelope, eating her out of house and home for years. Their complete domination of the estates of Odysseus is threatened by the succession of Prince Telemachus, Odysseus’ only son, They plot to kill him and so remove the last obstacle to their squatter’s possession. He eludes their scheme. The caution of the Jewish leaders in the face of the veiled threat of the parable comes from the note in the Odyssey that the suitors had to tread lightly lest their brazenness finally push the people of Ithaca, Odysseus’ subjects, too far and spark their wrath. Mark’s result is a hybrid which applies Isaiah’s judgment oracle not to the whole people but to their imagined usurping leaders and introduces the plot element of a rejected son.

            Mark returned to his recently-used Psalm 118 for the quotation from vv. 22-23 in Mark 12:10-11.


35. The Olivet Discourse (13:1-37)

The whole apocalyptic discourse of Mark is a cento of scripture paraphrases and quotations, and it will be sufficient simply to match each major verse to its source. Mark 13:7 comes from Daniel 2:28; Mark 13:8 from Isaiah 19:2 and/or 2 Chronicles 15:6; Mark 13:12 from Micah 7:6; Mark 13:14 from Daniel 9:27 and 12:11 and Genesis 19:17; Mark 13:19 from Daniel 12:1; Mark 13:22 from Deuteronomy 13:2; Mark 13:24 from Isaiah 13:1; Mark 13:25 from Isaiah 34:4; Mark 13:26 from Daniel 7:13, and Mark 13:27 from Zechariah 2:10 and Deuteronomy 30:4 (Bowman, pp. 241-242, Miller, pp. 300-301).


36. The Anointing at Bethany (14:3-9)

Helms (pp. 98-100) is surely correct that the Johannine version of the Bethany anointing (John 12:1-8) most clearly reveals its origin in the resurrection mythology of the Egyptian Osiris (Mary and Martha = Isis and Nephthys; Lazarus=Eleazer=El-Osiris; Bethany=Beth-Annu, house of the Sun=Heliopolis). It is apparent that the story even as Mark knew it was already derived from Osiris. Just as Isis restored the slain Osiris to life by anointing him in some versions, the reference here to the unnamed woman anointing Jesus for the day of his death and burial must originally have been set on that day, the day when she raised him from the dead. (The story of Joseph probably came ultimately from the same source, as numerous parallels make clear.)


37. The Last Supper (14:17-31)

All critics recognize the seed of the last supper story in Psalm 41:9, “Even my bosom friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” Frank Kermode has traced (pp. 84-85) the logical process whereby the original, entirely and abstractly theological claim that Jesus had been “delivered up” (paredoqh, Romans 4:25) has been narratized. From God having “handed over” his son for our sins grew the idea that a human agent had “betrayed” him (same Greek word). For this purpose, in line with anti-Jewish polemic, a betrayer named Judas was created. His epithet “Iscariot” seems to denote either Ish-karya (Aramaic for “the false one)” or a pun on Issachar, “hireling” (Miller, p. 65), thus one paid to hand Jesus over to the authorities. Much of the Last Supper story is taken up with this matter because of the mention of the betrayer eating with his victim in Psalm 41.

            It is interesting to see how Matthew embellishes the enigmatic figure and fate of Judas. First, he knows the precise amount Judas was paid, 30 silver pieces. He knows this from Zechariah 11:11b (“And they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver.”) How does he know that Judas returned the money, throwing it into the Temple treasury, and that the priests decided to use it to buy the potter’s field? The Syriac version of Zechariah reads: “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Cast it into the treasury, this lordly price at which I was paid off by them. So I took the thirty shekels of silver and cast them into the treasury in the house of the LORD.” The Hebrew of the same verse reads: “”Cast it to the potter, etc.” How does Matthew know Judas hanged himself? That was the fate of David’s traitorous counsellor Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), whom scribal tradition took to be the subject of Psalm 41:9, which the gospels applied to Judas (Helms, p. 106).

            Almost secondary in the supper narrative is the bread and cup. Whatever the origin of the sacramental ritual underlying this etiological story, it has been interpreted here in scriptural terms as a covenant renewal. See the unmistakable connection with 24:8, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with these words.”

            In verse 26 Jesus and the disciples sing the traditional Passover hymn, which, as we will see, provided Mark the content of Jesus’ introspection in the Garden of Gethsemane. V. 27’s quotation of Zechariah 13:7, “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” would seem to be the whole source for the subsequent scene where Jesus’ disciples flee from the arresting party.

            Peter avers that, no matter what the danger, he will not leave Jesus’ side. In this he reminds us, not coincidentally, of Elisha’s three avowals that he will not leave Elijah (2 Kings 2:2, 4, 6: “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” It seems not too much to suggest, with Roth (p. 17), that Mark has given Peter one such pledge and three betrayals of it. On the other hand (see below), Mark may have had in mind Ittai’s loyalty pledge to David, “Wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be” (1 Samuel 15:21) (Miller, p. 332).


38. The Garden of Gethsemane (14:32-52)

The basis of this whole scene can be found in 2 Samuel chapters 15-16 (Miller, p. 332). There, a weeping David, fleeing from his usurping son Absalom (a Judas figure), heads up the Mount of Olives and sends three of his allies (Sadoc, Achimaas and Jonathan, 15:27 LXX), back to Jerusalem. Jesus, too, heads up the mountain to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he will be overcome with sorrow. He leaves three disciples behind as he retreats into the recesses of the garden. (Jesus, of course, is moving simultaneously with his betrayer, but, unlike David, he is aiming to converge with him, not to avoid him.)

            David finds himself mocked and harassed by one Shimei, a partisan of Saul’s dynasty. He curses the fallen king, and David’s man Abishai offers to chop the mocker’s head off, but David forestalls him, musing that apparently God has bidden Shimei to curse David, given the situation. So as they slink along in silence, Shimei continues to pelt the refugees with rocks. Here we find more elements underlying Mark’s story. Abishai is the prototype of the unnamed disciple of Jesus (John fictively identifies him as Peter) who does attempt to behead Malchus in the arresting party. Shimei, another form of Shimeon or Simon, is the prototype for Simon who denies Jesus repeatedly, his stony missiles suggesting “Peter” as well. God having assigned Shimei to utter curses on David has become, in Mark’s version, Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denials, as well as Peter’s calling down curses on himself (or on Jesus) in the high priest’s courtyard (14:71).

            But what of Jesus’ prayer? That Mark is creating, not reporting, is evident from the fact that he has eliminated from the scene anyone who might have listened in on it. Mark derived the contents of the prayer from one of the traditional Passover hymns, which he has had Jesus sing at the close of the supper, Psalm 116:10-15, “My distress was bitter. In panic I cried, ’How faithless all men are!’... I will take in my hand the cup of salvation and invoke the LORD by name... A precious thing in the LORD’s eyes is the death of those who die faithful to him” (Helms, p. 111).

             Judas’ betraying kiss (14:44-45) would seem to derive from 2 Samuel 20:7-10, where Joab, backed up by armed men, greets Amasa as a brother, kisses him, then stabs him (Miller, p. 337). This identification, Helms notes (p. 117), is secured once we realize that Luke has modeled his version of Judas’ miserable death upon that of Amasa. 2 Samuel 20:10 LXX tells us that Amasa’s “bowels poured out (execuqh) upon the ground,” precisely as Luke tells us (Acts 1:18) that when Judas died, “he burst open, so that his entrails poured out (execuqh).”

            Amos 2:16, “And he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day,” remains the most likely clue to the origin of the fleeing young man who loses his sole garment to escape naked (Mark 14:51) (Derrett, p. 252). “That day” sounded like a good reference to the momentous day of Jesus’ passion.

            Luke adds the element of an angel appearing beside the tormented Jesus to “strengthen” him (Luke 22:43), a detail borrowed from 1 Kings 19:7-8 LXX: “And the angel of the Lord returned again and touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise, for the journey is far from thee.’ And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights to mount Horeb” (Helms, p. 109)


39. The Sanhedrin Trial (14:53-72)

Mark borrowed from Daniel 6:4 LXX the scene of the crossfire of false accusations (Helms, p. 118): “The governors and satraps sought (ezetoun) to find (eurein) occasion against Daniel, but they found against him no accusation.” Of this Mark (14:55) has made the following: “The chief priests and the whole council sought (ezetoun) testimony against Jesus in order to kill him, but they found none (ouk euriskon).”

            Mark 14:65, where Jesus suffers blows and mockery as a false prophet, comes from 1 Kings 22:24, “Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near and struck Micaiah on the cheek, and said, ‘How did the spirit of the LORD go from me to speak to you?’ And Micaiah said, ‘Behold, you shall see on that day when you go into an inner chamber to hide yourself’” (Miller, p. 350).

            Mark has used Micaiah’s retort, “Behold, you shall see...” as the model for Jesus’ retort that his accusers/attackers will one day behold Jesus enthroned as the Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14. It is interesting to speculate whether the doctrine of the second coming of Christ did not spring full-blown from Mark’s reversal of order between the Son of Man’s coming with the clouds and sitting on the throne in Daniel 7.

            Jesus’ silence at both trials before the Sanhedrin and Pilate (14:60-61; 15:4-5) comes from Isaiah 50:7; 53:7 (Crossan, p. 168).


40. The Scapegoat (15:1-15)

John Dominic Crossan has drawn attention to the singular importance for early Christian typology of the Leviticus 16 scapegoat ritual, tracing its development, as it picked up associations from Zechariah, on its way to the composition of the gospel narrative of the mocking, abuse, and crucifixion of Jesus. Although Crossan assumes the process began with a vague Christian memory/report of Jesus having been crucified, with no details, his own compelling charting of the midrashic trajectory strongly implies something subtly different, that the process began with something like Doherty’s scenario of an even vaguer, ahistorical belief in the savior Jesus becoming progressively historicized by means of progressive biblical coloring, until the final stage of evolution was a crucifixion.

            Crossan describes the scapegoat ritual as it was being practiced in early Christian times by reference to Yoma 6:2-6 , the Epistle of Barnabas chapter 7, Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho 40, and Tertullian’s Against Marcion 3:7. The goat was led out of the city walls. A crimson thread of wool was divided, half tied to a rock, half between the goat’s horns. Along the way, the goat was abused by the crowd shouting, “Bear [sins] and begone! Bear and begone!” The crowd spat at it and goaded it along with pointed reeds till it arrived at the ledge where it was pushed over (Crossan, p. 119). Barnabas implies that in his day the woolen thread was tied onto a thorny bush, no longer a rock, a significant change (no less significant even if this was a misunderstanding, already marking a slippage of the “piercing” motif from the reed-poking to the wool-tying). Even without reference to a passion narrative of any sort, Barnabas and the Sibylline Oracles (8:294-301) apply the ritual in all its details to the death of the savior Jesus. Barnabas and others also attach to it the typology Zechariah 12:10 (“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him as one weeps over a firstborn”) because of the catchword “piercing,” derived from the reeds and thorns of the scapegoat ritual.  From this it was a natural step to page through Zechariah to 3:1-5 and to associate the scapegoat-savior Jesus with the high priest Jesus (Joshua). There Jesus/Joshua is clothed in a crown (turban) and robe, which Barnabas, et. al., “recognized” as an expansion of the two bits of crimson wool from the scapegoat ritual. Once this connection was made, it was easy for the wool motif to be segregated to the robe, the crown assimilating to the thorns to which the other thread had been tied, resulting in a crown of thorns (Crossan, p. 128). From these roots, as the passion narrative begins to form, the piercing motif takes several forms. When Jesus becomes a mock king (as in the Roman Saturnalia games or the mockery of Carrabas in Philo, Flaccus VI), the reeds that once poked the scapegoat have become the reed sceptre of the mock king (which his mockers seize and use to hit him) as well as the mock crown of thorns and the scraping bits of the scourging whip. Then, in a full-scale crucifixion narrative (involving, of course, the driving of the scapegoat Jesus outside the city walls), the piercing motif takes the form of the nails of crucifixion and finally the piercing lance of Longinus.  


41. The Crucifixion (15:21-41)

The substructure for the crucifixion in chapter 15 is, as all recognize, Psalm 22, from which derive all the major details, including the implicit piercing of hands and feet (Mark 24//Psalm 22:16b), the dividing of his garments and casting lots for them (Mark 15:24//Psalm 22:18), the “wagging heads” of the mockers (Mark 15:20//Psalm 22:7), and of course the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34//Psalm 22:1). Matthew adds another quote, “He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now if he desires him” (Matthew 27:43//Psalm 22:8), as well as a strong allusion (“for he said, ‘I am the son of God’” 27:43b) to Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which underlies the whole story anyway (Miller, p. 362), “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life: for if the righteous man is God’s son he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture that we may find out how gentle he is and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

            As for other details, Crossan (p. 198) points out that the darkness at noon comes from Amos 8:9, while the vinegar and gall come from Psalm 69:21. It is remarkable that Mark does anything but call attention to the scriptural basis for the crucifixion account. There is nothing said of scripture being fulfilled here. It is all simply presented as the events of Jesus’ execution. It is we who must ferret out the real sources of the story. This is quite different, e.g., in John, where explicit scripture citations are given, e.g., for Jesus’ legs not being broken to hasten his death (John 19:36), either Exodus 12:10, Numbers 9:12, or Psalm 34:19-20 (Crossan, p. 168).

            Whence did Mark derive the tearing asunder of the Temple veil, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38)? Perhaps from the death of Hector in the Iliad (MacDonald, pp. 144-145). Hector dies forsaken by Zeus. The women of Troy watched from afar off (as the Galilean women do in Mark 15:40), and the whole of Troy mourned as if their city had already been destroyed “from top to bottom,” just as the ripping of the veil seems to be a portent of Jerusalem’s eventual doom.


42. Joseph of Arimathea (15:42-47)

Joseph is surely a combination of King Priam, who courageously comes to Achilles’ camp to beg the body of his son Hector (MacDonald, p. 159) and the Patriarch Joseph who asked Pharaoh’s permission to bury the body of Jacob in the cave-tomb Jacob had hewn for himself back beyond the Jordan (Genesis 50:4-5) (Miller, p. 373). Whence Joseph’s epithet “of Arimathea”? Richard C. Carrier has shown that the apparent place name is wholly a pun (no historical “Arimathea” has ever been identified), meaning “Best (ari[stoV]} Disciple (maqh[thV]) Town.” Thus “the Arimathean” is equivalent to “the Beloved Disciple.” He is, accordingly, an ideal, fictive figure.


43. The Empty Tomb (16:1-8)

Crossan (p. 274) and Miller and Miller (pp. 219, 377) note that the empty tomb narrative requires no source beyond Joshua (=Jesus, remember!) chapter 10. The five kings have fled from Joshua, taking refuge in the cave at Makkedah. When they are discovered, Joshua orders his men to “Roll great stones against the mouth of the cave and set men by it to guard them” (10:18). Once the mopping-up operation of the kings’ troops is finished, Joshua directs: “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring those five kings out to me from the cave” (10:22). “And afterward Joshua smote them and put them to death, and he hung them on five trees. And they hung upon the trees until evening; but at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set great stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day” (10:26-27). Observe that here it is “Jesus” who plays the role of Pilate, and that Mark needed only to reverse the order of the main narrative moments of this story. Joshua 10: first, stone rolled away and kings emerge alive; second, kings die; third, kings are crucified until sundown. Mark: Jesus as King of the Jews is crucified, where his body will hang till sundown; second, he dies; third, he emerges alive (Mark implies) from the tomb once the stone is rolled away.

             The vigil of the mourning women likely reflects the women’s mourning cult of the dying and rising god, long familiar in Israel (Ezekiel 8:14, “Behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz;” Zechariah 12:11, “On that day the mourning in  Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo;” Canticles 3:1-4, “I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but found him not; I called him but he gave no answer,” etc.).


C. The Gospel of Matthew

1. The Nativity of Jesus

On the whole Matthew seems to have borrowed the birth story of Jesus from Josephus’ retelling of the nativity of Moses. Whereas Exodus had Pharaoh institute the systematic murder of Hebrew infants simply to prevent a strong Hebrew fifth column in case of future invasion, Josephus makes the planned pogrom a weapon aimed right at Moses, who in Josephus becomes a promised messiah in his own right. Amram and Jochabed, expecting baby Moses, are alarmed. What should they do? Abort the pregnancy? God speaks in a dream to reassure them. “One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events truly, told the king that about this time there would a child be borne to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through the ages. Which was so feared by the king that, according to this man’s opinion, he commanded that they should cast every male child into the river, and destroy it... A man, whose name was Amram, ... was very uneasy at it, his wife being then with child, and he knew not what to do... Accordingly God had mercy on him, and was moved by his supplication. He stood by him in his sleep, and exhorted him not to despair of his future favours... ‘For that child, out of dread for whose nativity the Egyptians have doomed the Israelites’ children to destruction, shall be this child of thine... he shall deliver the Hebrew nation from the distress they are under from the Egyptians. His memory shall be famous whole the world lasts.’” (Antiquities, II, IX, 2-3)

            It is evident that Matthew has had merely to change a few names. Herod the Great takes the role of the baby-killing Pharaoh, and he is warned by his own scribes (along with the Magi) of the impending birth of a savior, whereupon he resolves to kill every child he has to in order to eliminate the child of promise. Joseph takes the place of Amram, though the precise cause of his unease is different. Mary takes the place of Jochabed. A dream from God steels Joseph, like Amram, in his resolve to go through with things.

            The rest of Matthew’s birth story is woven from a series of formulaic scripture quotations. He makes Isaiah 7:14 LXX refer to the miraculous virginal conception of Jesus. It is likely that he has in this case found a scripture passage to provide a pedigree for a widespread hagiographical mytheme, the divine paternity of the hero, which had already passed into the Christian tradition, unless of course this is the very door through which it passed.

            It is revealing that Matthew’s Magi learn from scribal exegesis of Micah 5:2 that the messiah must be born in Bethlehem. This is the same way Matthew “knew” Jesus was born there--it had to be!

            The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt comes equally from exegesis, this time of Hosea 11:1, which allows Matthew to draw a parallel between his character Joseph and the Genesis patriarch Joseph, who also went to Egypt. Matthew also seems here to want to foreshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus. Note that Isaiah 52:9-10 makes the exodus from Egypt into a historical replay of God’s primordial victory over the sea dragon Rahab, equating Egypt with Rahab. Matthew also knew that Jonah was swallowed by a sea monster at God’s behest, and he saw this as a prefiguration of Jesus’ descent into the tomb (Matthew 12:40). The flight into Egypt has the child Jesus already going down into Rahab, the belly of the sea beast.

            The closest Matthew can come, via punning exegesis, to providing a prooftext for Jesus having become known as “the Nazarene” would seem to be Judges 13:7, “The boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth.” He knew Jesus must be born in Bethlehem yet was called “Jesus of Nazareth,” so he cobbled together a story whereby Jesus was born in Mary and Joseph’s home in Bethlehem, only to relocate in Nazareth (after Egypt) to avoid the wrath of Archelaus (Matthew 2:22-23). Luke, on the other hand, working with the same two assumptions, contrived to have Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth but to be in Bethlehem for the census when the time came for Jesus to be born. In both cases, exegesis has produced narrative.


2. The Resurrection of Jesus (27:62-28:20)

Matthew had before him Mark’s empty tomb story and no other source except the Book of Daniel, from which he has embellished the Markan original at several points. (Matthew had already repaired to Daniel in his Pilate story, where the procurator declared, “I am innocent of the blood of this man,” Matthew 27:24b, which he derived from Susanna 46/Daniel 13:46 LXX: “I am innocent of the blood of this woman.”) (Crossan, p. 97-98). First, Matthew has introduced guards at the tomb and has had the tomb sealed, a reflection of Nebuchadnezzer’s sealing the stone rolled to the door of the lion’s den with Daniel inside (6:17). Mark had a young man (perhaps an angel, but perhaps not) already in the open tomb when the women arrived. Matthew simply calls the character an angel and clothes him in a description reminiscent of the angel of Daniel chapter 10 (face like lightning, Daniel 10:6) and the Ancient of Days in Daniel chapter 7 (snowy white clothing, Daniel 7:9b). He rolls the stone aside. The guards faint and become as dead men, particular dead men, as a matter of fact, namely the guards who tossed Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego into the fiery furnace in (Daniel 3:22).

            To provide an appearance of the risen Jesus to the women at the tomb (something conspicuously absent from Mark), Matthew simply divides Mark’s young man into the angel and now Jesus himself, who has nothing more to say than a lame reiteration of the angel’s words. He appears again on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16) which he now says Jesus had earlier designated, though this is the first the reader learns of it. There he dispenses yet more Danielic pastiche: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is based on a conflation of two Greek versions of Daniel 7:14. In the LXX, “to him [the one like a son of man was] ... given the rule... the authority of him [the Ancient of Days].” In Theodotion, he receives “authority to hold all in the heaven and upon the earth.” The charge to make all nations his disciples comes from Daniel 7:14, too: “that all people, nations, and languages should serve him” (Helms, p. 141).


D. The Gospel of Luke

1. The Nativities of Jesus and John (1:1-2:52)

The fundamental source of Luke’s double nativity story is the nativity of Samuel. Eli becomes Simeon (and perhaps also Zachariah), while barren Hannah becomes old Elizabeth (and Mary, too, if we accept the majority of manuscripts’ attribution of the Magnificat to her instead of Elizabeth, 1:46-55). The Magnificat is clearly a paraphrase of Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 1-10. The repeated refrain of Jesus’ continuing growth in wisdom and favor with God and men (2:40, 52, cf., 1:80) comes directly from 1 Samuel 2:26, “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.”

            The birth annunciation to Mary recalls those of Isaac (Genesis 17:19, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name...”; 18:9-15) and Samson (Judges 13:2-5, “you shall conceive and bear a son... and he shall begin to deliver Israel...”). The story also borrows from the commissioning stories of Moses (Exodus 3:10-12) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-8), where the servant of God objects to the divine summons and his objection is overruled (see Luke 1:18, 34).

            A less familiar source for the Lukan nativity story is the nativity of Moses as told in Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities, where we read that, during Pharaoh’s persecution of the Hebrew babies, Amram has determined to defy Pharaoh by having a son. God makes known his will by sending an angel to the virgin Miriam. “And the Spirit of God came upon Miriam one night, and she saw a dream and told it to her parents in the morning, saying, ‘I have seen this night, and behold a man in a linen garment stood and said to me, “Go, and say to your parents, ‘Behold, he who will be born from you will be cast forth into the water; likewise through him the water will be dried up. And I will work signs through him and save my people, and he will exercise leadership always’”’” (9:10).

            The angel Gabriel’s predictions in Luke 1:32-33, 35 derive from an Aramaic version of Daniel: “[And when the Spirit] came to rest up[on] him, he fell before the throne. [Then Daniel rose and said,] ‘O king, why are you angry; why do you [grind] your teeth? [The G]reat [God] has revealed to you [that which is to come.] ... [Peoples will make war,] and battles shall multiply among the nations, until [the king of the people of God arises... [All the peoples will serve him,] and he shall become gre[at] upon the earth... He will be called [son of the Gr]eat [God;] by his Name shall he be designated. He will be called the son of God. They will call him son of the Most High... His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, and he will be righteous in all his ways” (4Q246, The Son of God).

            When Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, the latter’s unborn child, John the Baptizer, leaps in the womb in greeting to acknowledge the greater glory of the unborn Jesus. Here, as G.R. Driver pointed out, Luke refers to Genesis 25:22 LXX, where Rebecca is in pain because her two rival sons strive within her as a sign of fraternal discord to come: “And the babes leaped within her.” This precedent Luke seeks to reverse by having the older cousin, John, already deferring in the womb to his younger cousin. Here he has an eye on the rival John the Baptist sect whom he thus tries to conciliate and coopt.


2. The Centurion’s Child and the Son of the Widow of Nain (7:1-17)

Luke has used 1 Kings 17 as the basis for the two-miracle sequence here (Brodie, pp. 136-137 ). The original Elijah version stipulates (1 Kings 17:1) how the famine shall be relieved only by the prophetic word, just as the mere word of Jesus is enough to heal the centurion’s servant/child at a distance (Luke 7:7b). Elijah journeys to the Transjordan where he will meet a Gentile in need, the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:5, 10a), just as Jesus arrives in Capernaum to encounter a Roman centurion. Both Gentiles are in dire need, the widow about to succumb to starvation with her son (17:12), the centurion desperate to avert his son’s/servant’s imminent death (7:2-3). Once the facts are made known to the miracle worker, there is a series of commands (1 Kings 17:10c-13; Luke 7:8), and divine deliverance is secured, the multiplication of food in the one case (17:6), the return of health in the other (7:10).

            It appears that Luke has drawn the story of the centurion’s son from the wider gospel tradition, as it appears in both Matthew 8:513 (hence in Q) and John 4:46-54. It had already been derived from the Elijah story by early Christian scribes. But Luke has decided as well to add a new Jesus tale, unparalleled in other gospels, modeled upon the 1 Kings sequel to the story of Elijah and the widow. Whereas Elijah later raises from the dead the widow’s son, Jesus next comes upon a funeral procession and raises the man about to be buried, again a widow’s son, this time from Nain. Luke has decided to reserve one feature from the first Elijah episode to use in his second Jesus episode: the initial meeting with the widow at the city gate of Zarephath, which he makes the gate of Nain (even though historical Ain had no gate!).

            But before this, Luke opens his second episode with the same opening from 1 Kings 17:17a: “And it happened afterward” // “after this...” The widow’s son is dead (1 Kings 17:17b; Luke 7:12b). Elijah cried out in anguish (1 Kings 17:19-20), unlike Jesus, who, however, tells the widow not to cry (Luke 7:13). After a gesture (Elijah prays for the boy’s spirit to return, v. 21; Jesus commands the boy to rise, 7:14), the dead rises, proving his reanimation by crying out (1 Kings 17:22; Luke 7:15). His service rendered, the wonder-worker “gave him to his mother” (1 Kings 17:24; Luke 7:15b, verbatim identical). Those present glorify the hero (1 Kings 17:24; Luke 7:16-17).

             If Luke himself (as Brodie thinks, pp. 136-152) composed the first episode directly from the first Elijah episode, instead of taking it from Q, he will have also transferred the widow’s lament that Elijah has come to punish her sins into the centurion’s confession that he is unworthy to have Jesus come under his roof.


3. The Sinful Woman (7:36-50)

According to Brodie (pp. 174-184), Luke has created his rather cumbersome story of the sinful woman from a pair of Elisha’s miracles, the never-failing cruse of oil (2 Kings 4:1-7) and the raising of the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:8-37). The widow of Elisha’s disciple is in financial debt, with her creditors about to take her two children in payment (2 Kings 4:1). In Luke’s version, her arrears have become a debt of sin (Luke 7:37, 40-42). Elisha causes her oil to multiply, becoming enough to pay her debt. Jesus’ cancellation of the woman’s debt is less material but no less miraculous, as he pronounces her forgiven (Luke 7:44-50). As for the oil, it has become the myrrh with which the woman anoints Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:38). In Luke’s version, Simon the Pharisee has invited the itinerant Jesus to dine (Luke 7:36), a reflection of the Shunammite’s invitation of Elisha to stay and eat with her whenever passing by (2 Kings 4:8-11). As a reward, Elisha grants her to conceive a son. Years later, he dies of sunstroke, whereupon she journeys to Elisha for help, falling at his feet (2 Kings 4:27), just as the suppliant woman anoints the feet of Jesus (Luke 7:38). There is no need to posit Luke’s creation of the whole anointing story, the core of which he got from Mark 14:3-9, but he has substantially rewritten it in light of 2 Kings.


4. Appointment in Samaria (9:51-56)

The connection between Luke 9:51-56 and 2 Kings 1:1-2:1 is obvious to all in view of the explicit allusion in the one to the other (Luke 9:54). But Brodie shows (pp. 207-214) how the Lukan story is simply rewritten from its prototype. Luke has transferred the anticipation of the hero’s being taken up into heaven from the end of the section of Elijah’s clash with the Samaritan troops (2 Kings 2:1) to the beginning of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan village (Luke 9:51a). The king of Samaria has sent messengers to inquire of the oracle of Baal-zebub in Philistine Ekron, but Elijah meets them and turns them back (2 Kings 1:2-5). In Luke this has become the turning back of Jesus’ messengers sent ahead to secure the night’s accommodations in Samaria. The Samaritans are no longer those turned back but those who turn others back in their travels. The prophet is now the sender of the messengers, not their interceptor. Once the king of Samaria sends troops to apprehend Elijah, the latter calls down fire from the sky to consume them (2 Kings 1:9-10). The scene is repeated (vv. 1-12). The third time Elijah relents and comes along quietly (1 Kings 1:13-15). James and John want to repeat Elijah’s miraculous destruction of the Samaritans (now villagers, not troops), but Jesus will have none of it. Instead he takes the role of the angel of the LORD who bade Elijah  show mercy.


5. Calling a Ploughman (9:59-62)

The stories of Jesus’ calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:16-20) and Levi (Mark 2:14) all seem to stem from Elijah summoning Elisha to become his disciple and successor (1 Kings 19:19-21). But Luke seems (Brodie, pp. 216-227) to have created another discipleship paradigm which implicitly critiques the prototype. In Luke 9:59-62, Jesus forbids what Elijah allows, that the new recruit should delay long enough to pay filial respects. Also, whereas ploughing was for Elisha the worldly pursuit he must abandon for the prophetic ministry, for Luke ploughing becomes the very metaphor for that ministry.


6. The Central Section (10:1-18:14)

Based on Mark’s Transfiguration scene, which both take over directly (Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36), Matthew and Luke depict Jesus as the Prophet like unto Moses, and each has him promulgating a new Torah. Matthew presents a whole new Pentateuch by organizing the teaching of Jesus into five great blocks: the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), the Mission Charge (chapter 10), the Parables chapter (13), the Manual of Discipline (chapters 18-19), and the denunciation on the Pharisees plus the Olivet Discourse (chapters 23-26; the cramming together of two themes in the fifth section only underlines his determination to squeeze the whole thing into five divisions, no matter how snug the fit!). By contrast, Luke thought it sufficient to have Jesus present a Deutero-Deuteronomy, a “second law” such as Moses offers in the Book of Deuteronomy. C.F. Evans (“The Central Section of St. Luke’s Gospel,” 1967) was the first to point this out. Just as Matthew did, Luke has both simply organized some traditional materials and also created some of his own based on suggestions in the scripture text he was emulating.


a. Sending out Emissaries (Deuteronomy 1; Luke 10:1-3, 17-30)

Just as Moses had chosen twelve spies to reconnoiter the land which stretched “before your face,” sending them through the cities of the land of Canaan, so does Jesus send a second group, after the twelve, a group of seventy, whose number symbolizes the nations of the earth who are to be conquered, so to speak, with the gospel in the Acts of the Apostles. He sends them out “before his face” to every city he plans to visit (in Canaan, too, obviously).

            To match the image of the spies returning with samples of the fruit of the land (Deuteronomy 1:25), Luke has placed here the Q saying (Luke 10:2//Matthew 9:37-38), “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few; therefore beg the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers into his harvest.”

            And Jesus’ emissaries return with a glowing report, just as Moses’ did.


b. Judgment for Rejection (Deuteronomy 2-3:22; Luke 10:4-16)

Just as Moses sent messengers to Kings Og of Bashan and Sihon of Heshbon with terms of peace, so does Jesus send his seventy out with the offer of blessing: “Peace be to this house.” The Israelite messengers are rebuffed, and God punishes them by sending Israel to decimate them. Jesus warns that in case of rejection (which does not in fact occur), the aloof cities will face divine judgment some time in the future. This mission charge material comes from Q (cf. Matthew 10). That it did not originate here with Luke borrowing it directly from Deuteronomy is evident from the fact that the hypothetical doom of the unresponsive towns is compared with those of Tyre and Sidon, not of Bashan and Heshbon. Perhaps Luke decided to use the Q material here because it uses the image of the missionaries “shaking the dust” (i.e., the contagion) of the village “from the soles of their feet” (Luke 10:1), matching the mention of “the sole of the foot” in Deuteronomy 2:5.


c. Praying to the Lord of Heaven and Earth (Deuteronomy 3:23-4:40; Luke 10:21-24)

“At that time” Moses prayed to God, like unto whom there is none “in heaven or on earth” (Deuteronomy 2:23-24). In the Q saying Luke 10:21-24//Matthew 11:25-27, perhaps itself suggested originally by the Deuteronomy text, Jesus “at that time” praised his divine Father, “Lord of heaven and earth” (Luke 10:21). Jesus thanks God for revealing his wonders to “children,” not to the ostensibly “wise.” In some measure this reflects the wording of Deuteronomy 4:6, where Moses reminds his people to cherish the commandments as their wisdom and 4:9, there he bids them tell what they have seen to their children. The Deuteronomic recital of all the wonders their eyes have seen (4:3, 9, 34, 36) may have inspired the Q blessing of the disciples for having seen the saving acts the ancient prophets and kings did not live to witness (Luke 10:23-24). Only note the antitypological reversal of Deuteronomy: for Q it is the ancients who failed to see what their remote heirs did see.

            The rest of the Q passage, Luke 10:22, may derive from Akhenaten’s Hymn to the Sun: “O Aten, no man knoweth thee, save for thy son Akhenaten.”


d. The Commandments and the Shema (Deuteronomy 5-6; Luke 10:25-27)

These two chapters of Deuteronomy present both the Decalogue and the Shema. Luke presents but the tip of the iceberg when Jesus asks a scribe what he considers the gist of the Torah and the man replies with the Shema (adding Leviticus 19:18). Here Luke has rewritten Mark 12:28-34, which did list some of the Ten Commandments, albeit loosely. Luke’s closing comment, “Do this and you will live,” comes from Leviticus 18:5, “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances, by doing which a man shall live.” It is not a case of Jesus being quoted as quoting the Leviticus text; rather it is evident Luke has refashioned the unacknowledged Levitical original into a fictive saying of Jesus.


e. (No) Mercy to the Foreigner (Deuteronomy 7; Luke 10:29-37)

To Deuteronomy’s stern charge to eradicate the heathen of Canaan without mercy (7:2), itself a piece of long-after-the-fact jingoism, not an historical incitement to genocide, Luke poses this uniquely Lukan parable, that of the Good Samaritan, in which the despised foreigner/heretic is filled with mercy (Luke 10:33) for a Jew victimized by thugs. Like all the uniquely Lukan parables, this one is the evangelist’s own creation. By contrast, Matthew knew of no such sympathy of Jesus for Samaritans (Matthew 10:5). This parable, like the uniquely Lukan narrative of the Samaritan leper (17:1-19), reflects Luke’s interest in the Samaritan mission (Acts 8:5-17 ff.), shared with John (John 4:1-42). The parable of the Good Samaritan, like most of Luke’s, is a genuine story, no mere extended simile, and it compares two type-characters, in this case the indifferent priest and Levite versus the compassionate Samaritan, just as Luke elsewhere contrasts the Prodigal and his straight-arrow brother, Lazarus and the Rich Man, the Pharisee and the Publican, the Widow and the Unjust Judge, Mary and Martha, the Importunate Friend and his Unresponsive Friend. The contrast with Moses’ mercilessness is of a piece with Luke’s Elijah/Jesus contrast in Luke 9:54, where Jesus shows mercy to Samaritans, unlike his counterpart Elijah who barbecued them (2 Kings 1:10, 12).


f. Not by Bread Alone (Deuteronomy 8:1-3; Luke 10:38-42)

Luke has created the story of Mary and Martha as a commentary on Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man does not live by bread alone, but... man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” Luke has opposed the contemplative Mary who hungers for Jesus’ (“the Lord’s”)  “words” with the harried Martha (“Lady of the House,” hence an ideal, fictive character), whose preoccupation with domestic chores, especially cooking and serving, threatens to crowd out spiritual sustenance (cf. Deuteronomy 8:11-14). It is not unlikely that the passage is intended to comment in some way on the issue of celibate women and their various roles in the church of Luke’s day (cf. 1 Timothy 5:3-16).


g. Fatherly Provision (Deuteronomy 8:4-20; Luke 11:1-13)

Deuteronomy compares the discipline meted out to Israel by God with the training a father gives his son, then reminds the reader of the fatherly provision of God for his children in the wilderness and promises security, prosperity, and sufficient food in their new land. Luke matches this with his version of the Q Lord’s Prayer, sharing the same general themes of fatherly provision and asking God to spare his children “the test,” recalling the “tests” sent upon the people by God in the wilderness. Luke adds the Q material about God giving good gifts to his children (Luke 11:9-13//Matthew 7:7-11), certainly the point of the Deuteronomy text, together with his own parable of the Importunate Friend, which (like its twin, the parable of the Unjust Judge, 18:1-8, also uniquely Lukan) urges the seeker not to give up praying “How long, O Lord?”


h. Vanquishing Strong Enemies (Deuteronomy 9:1-10:11; Luke 11:14-26)

On the eve of Israel’s entrance into the land, Moses reviews their fathers’ sorry history of rebellion yet promises victory over stronger nations including the half-mythical Anakim, descended from a race of titans. Later haggadah made these Sons of Anak descendants of the miscegenation between the Sons of God understood as fallen angels and the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-6). Thus it is no surprise for Luke to discern a parallel between this text and the Q/Mark account of the Beel-zebul controversy, where Jesus exorcises demons (fallen angels?), despoiling Satan, the strong man, of his captives. According to the analogy, the poor hapless demoniacs are like the promised land of Canaan, while the demons possessing the wretches are like the Anakim holding the land until God casts them out because of their wickedness, even though like Satan their chief they are far stronger than any mere mortal.

            As noted in the discussion of the Beel-zebul controversy in Mark (section B.11 above), the Q comparison of Jesus with the “sons” of the Pharisees and his own use of “the finger of God” to cast out demons must derive from a midrash upon the Exodus contest between Moses and the priest-magicians of Pharaoh. But Luke anchors it precisely at this point because of the Deuteronomic reference to “the finger of God” writing the commandments upon the stone tables. The “strong man” element of both Markan and Q versions of the Beel-zebul episode also originated elsewhere, in Isaiah 49:24, but it seemed to fit the Deuteronomic reference to stronger nations here. That is, though the Beel-zebul controversy does stem from scriptural sources, it was pre-Lukan material which he then placed at a particular point in his sequence because of its perceived analogy to the piece of Deuteronomy he needed to parallel.


i. Impartiality and Clear Vision (Deuteronomy 10:12-11:32; Luke 11:27-36)

Again, Luke has done his best to match up previously existing gospel traditions with themes from the next bit of Deuteronomy. To the exaltation of God as impartial to all, no respector of persons, Luke matches (and, not unlikely, creates on the basis of Mark 3::31-35) an anecdote showing that not even the mother of Jesus is higher in God’s sight than the average faithful disciple.

            Corresponding to the warning for Israel not to repeat the sins of the Canaanites and so repeat their doom, Luke matches the Q material on how even ancient non-Israelites better appreciated the divine witness of their day than did Jesus’ contemporaries (Luke 11:29-32//Matthew12:39-42).

            Finally, Luke places the Q material about the eye being the lamp of the body (Luke 11:34-36//Matthew 6:22-23) in tandem with Deuteronomy 11:18’s charge to cherish the commandments in one’s heart and to place them as frontlets on one’s forehead. Presumably, the unstated middle term of transition from the one image to the other was Psalm 19:8 (“the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes”) or perhaps Psalm 119:105 (“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.”).


j. Clean and Unclean (Deuteronomy 12:1-16; Luke 11:37-12:12)

The substance of Deuteronomy 12:1-14’s prohibition of sacrifice on the traditional high places and restriction of worship to the (Jerusalem) Temple, finds no real echo in Luke, who waits to apply roughly parallel material to Deuteronomy 12:15-16, which allows for the preparation and eating of meat as a purely secular process at home. (I.e., no longer must every eating of meat be part of a sacrifice, traditionally offered at home.) Here we read that clean and unclean alike may eat meat in this way, and Luke has seized on this rubric to introduce the Q material on the inability of the Pharisees to tell the real difference between clean and unclean (Luke 11:39-52//Matthew 23:4-7, 23-36, as well as Mark 7:1-5 (//Luke 11:37-38) and the Q material Matthew 10:26-35//Luke 12:2-9. The connection is merely that of catchwords, as proves also to be the case when we notice that the Q phrase “the blood of all the prophets shed” (Luke 11:50//Matthew 23:35, ”all the righteous blood shed on earth”) just barely recalls the Deuteronomic phrase, “you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it out upon the earth” (12:16).


k. Inheritance (Deuteronomy 12:17-32; Luke 12:13-34)

Approached by someone in the crowd who seeks to have Jesus adjudicate an inheritance dispute, Jesus refuses to play the role of arbiter, one commonly played by itinerant Near Eastern holy men (who, having no earthly connections or interests, the theory went, must be impartial as well as inspired). His retort, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” (Luke 12:14), echoes and no doubt derives from Exodus 2:14a, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?” Moses had sought to interfere in his people’s worldly troubles, only to be rebuffed. Jesus’ intervention is sought, but he rebuffs the request. Here is another Moses-Jesus antitype, at the expense of Moses, since one greater than  Moses is ostensibly here.

            The ensuing parable, Luke 12:16-21, seems to be based on Ecclesiastes/Qoheleth 6:-2, “a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all he desires, yet God does not give him the opportunity to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them.” See also Ecclesiastes/Qoheleth 2:18-21.


l. Severe Punishments (Deuteronomy 13:1-11; Luke 12:35-53)

Deuteronomy takes aim at false prophets, prophets of rival deities, warning Israel not to heed their seductions. It is God who has sent them, and not the deities whom they think themselves to speaking for. God is in this way testing Israel’s fidelity. To match this theme, Luke has chosen to use parable material based on the Markan Apocalypse (Mark 13:34-37); note Luke’s expansion of Mark 13::37, “What I say to you I say to all: watch,” into a dialogue between Jesus and Peter: “Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us, or for all?’” (Luke 12:41 ff.). The Markan parable had the departing master set tasks for his servants; hence they functioned as tests to prove how well they would perform. For Luke, connecting the parable with Deuteronomy, the church’s job while their Lord is away in heaven is to remain faithful to his name as against the blandishments of other saviors and prophets (Luke 21:8).

            Since Deuteronomy does not exempt even family members who may have fallen under the spell of forbidden gods (13:6-11), Luke adds the Q saying Luke 51-53//Matthew 10:34-36), largely based on an unacknowledged quotation of Micah 7:6, “for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are men of his own household.” 


m. Judgment on this People (Deuteronomy 13:12-18; Luke 12:54-13:5)

Whole cities lapsing into pagan apostasy are to be eliminated, destroyed, Deuteronomy mandates, with nothing ever to be rebuilt on the desolation, so seriously does Israel’s God take spiritual infidelity. No less gravely does the Lukan Jesus take the lack of repentance on the part of Galileans and Jews. Past tragedies and atrocities will be seen as the mere beginning of the judgments to fall like the headsman’s ax on an unrepentant people. Of course, the Lukan Jesus prophesies long after the fact, referring to the bloody triumph of Rome in Galilee and Judea culminating in 73 CE.


n. The Third Year (Deuteronomy 14:28; Luke 13:6-9)

Luke has seen fit to skip Deuteronomy 14:1-31, a list of clean and unclean animals, and 14:22-27, which repeats 12:17-31.

            Deuteronomy 14 stipulates a tithe of one’s produce every three years. Luke uses the law as a springboard for a retrospective parable accounting for the Roman defeat of Judea and Galilee, continuing his discussion from the preceding pericopae. The people of God is like a barren fig tree which has disappointed its owner three years straight, yielding nothing to offer God. The vinedresser pleads for an extra year’s grace period before the fruitless tree should be uprooted. Luke’s point: don’t say God didn’t go the second mile before exacting judgment.


o. Release of the Bondslave (Deuteronomy 15:1-18; Luke 13:10-21)

Deuteronomy calls for the cancellation of debts in the seventh year, a kind of release from bondage, as well as freedom for bondservants. The last case stipulated is that of the bondwoman (Deuteronomy 15:17). From this last, Luke has developed his story of a woman, a bondservant of Satan for eighteen years by virtue of a bent spine, being freed by Jesus.

            Luke and Matthew, each using both Q and Mark, have inherited the Markan story of the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), a controversy about healing on the sabbath, and the Q saying “Which of you, having one sheep [Luke: “a son/ass or ox”] that falls into a pit [Luke: “well”] on the sabbath, will not lay hold of it and pull it out?” (Matthew 12:11//Luke 1414:5). Matthew inserted the Q saying into the Markan story, while Luke chose to duplicated Mark’s story of the man with the withered hand as the healing of the man with dropsy (Luke 14:1-6) and to insert the Q saying into it at the equivalent spot. But he also created the story of the woman with the bent spine, basing it on a paraphrase of the same Q saying, adapted to the case suggested by Deuteronomy, the release from a bond, so that the parallel cited becomes releasing a farm animal from its tether on the sabbath.


p. Go to Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:1-17:7; Luke 13:22-35)

Deuteronomy commands thrice-yearly pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple, and the Lukan Jesus declares nothing will deflect his inexorable progress to Jerusalem to die there as a prophet must. As the declaration presupposes the Lukan redactional agenda of the Central Section itself, as well as the distinctive Lukan prophet Christology, the saying is itself redactional.


q. Righteous Judges; Remembering the Poor (Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 17:8-18; Luke 14:1-14)

            The fit here is loose, but the connection is nonetheless evident. Deuteronomy is concerned with people accepting the oracular verdict of priests and judges, and with limiting the prerogatives of the king. Luke, apparently simply to secure the parallel, has set his scene in the house of a “ruler” and tells the story of the dropsical man to exalt Jesus’ judgment over that of the scribes.

            The rest of the Lukan passage refers back to the preceding Deuteronomic text, 16:14, whose ranking of various guests enables Luke to tack on a piece of table etiquette borrowed from Proverbs 25:6-7 (“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of the prince.”). The specific inclusion of the widow and the sojourner in Deuteronomy 16:14 has inspired Luke’s admonition to invite the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame instead of one’s friends and relatives. While the Lukan version may seem a more radical suggestion than Deuteronomy’s inclusion of the poor alongside one’s family, it actually tends toward minimizing the discomfort of the situation: one can bask in playing the benefactor to one’s poor clients without having to embarrass one’s fellow sophisticates with the crude manners of the poor at the same table (though in 1 Corinthians 11:18-22 we learn some “solved” the problem by segregating the two groups at the same event!).


r. Excuses before Battle (Deuteronomy 20; Luke 14:15-35)

Luke has omitted Deuteronomy 19’s discussions of cities of refuge and of false witnesses.

            Commentators commonly note the similarity between the excuses offered by those invited to the great supper in Q (Matthew 22:1-10//Luke 14:16-24), implicitly sneered at by the narrator, and those circumstances exempting an Israelite from serving in holy war in Deuteronomy 20, building a new house, planting a new vineyard, getting married. One can only suspect that Q represents a tightening up of what were considered by an enthusiastic sect to be too lax standards, just as the divorce rules were tightened by Christians. (Those standards were now seen to apply, no doubt, to the spiritual crusade of evangelism.)

            The parable of the Great Supper is pre-Lukan, as it appears already in Q (Luke 14:16-24//Matthew 22:1-10 ff.) and the Gospel of Thomas, saying 64. It is very likely an adaptation of the rabbinic story of the tax-collector Bar-Majan, who sought to climb socially by inviting the respectable rich to a great feast. All, refusing to fall for the ploy, begged off, whereupon the tax-collector decided to share the food with the poor that it not go to waste. This act of charity did win him a stately funeral but was not enough to mitigate his punishment in hell (Jerusalem Talmud, Hagigah, II, 77d).

            The rest of Luke 14:25-33 has perched here because of the treatment of warfare in the parallel section of Deuteronomy, though the connection is really only that of catchwords, as often in the Central Section.


s. Rights of the First-Born Versus Wicked Sons (Deuteronomy 21:15-22:4; Luke 15)

Luke leaves aside Deuteronomy 21:1-14, the treatment of corpses and female captives.

            The great parable of the Prodigal Son is Luke’s own creation, as is evident not only from its juxtaposition of two type-characters, but also from the uniquely Lukan device of character introspection in a tight spot:, “What shall I do? I shall...” The Prodigal, having painted himself into a corner, reflects, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him...” (15:18), just as the Unjust Judge, exasperated, “said to himself, ‘I will vindicate her...’” (Luke 18:4-5). Similarly, the Dishonest Steward “said to himself, ‘What shall I do? ... I have decided what to do...’”(16:3-4). And the Rich Fool “thought to himself, ‘What shall I do...? I will do this...’” (12:17-18)

            The parable’s theme was suggested to him by the Deuteronomic treatment of sons and their inheritance in 21:15-21. Luke has combined the elements of division of property between a pair of sons, the possibility of favoring the wrong one, and the problem of a rebellious son who shames his family. But, typically, Luke replaces the sternness of the original legal provision (no doubt because he writes for a Diaspora audience for whom some of these laws can no longer apply) with an example of mercy. Here the rebellious son is accepted in love, not executed.

            Though the basic inspiration of the parable comes thus from Deuteronomy, Luke owes the building blocks from another source, the Odyssey. The character of the Prodigal was suggested by both the long-absent Odysseus himself and his son Telemachus who returns from his own long quest to find his father. Both the parable’s element of wandering far from home and of the father-son reunion stem from here. The cavorting of the Prodigal with loose women in far lands was suggested by Odysseus’ dalliance with Calypso. But the motif of the Prodigal’s having “devoured [his father’s] estate with loose living” is based on the similar judgment passed more than once by Telemachus and Eumaeus on the “gang of profligates” infesting Odysseus’ estate during his absence, the suitors. 

            The Prodigal’s taking a job as a swine herder, a galling “transformation” for a Jew, may reflect the transformation of Odysseus’ men into swine by Circe, especially since the hungry Prodigal would like to fill his stomach with the pods the pigs eat, i.e., act like a pig. Then again, his working as a swineherd may stem from Eumaeus’ having been one. The latter’s frequent characterization as a “righteous swineherd” may have suggested the depiction of the Prodigal as a repentant swineherd. The return of the Prodigal was suggested by the return of Odysseus, but no less of Telemachus, who together share the same actantial role. The Prodigal hopes to enter his father’s household as a mere slave, whereas the returning Odysseus actually disguises himself as a slave on his own estate. The glad reception afforded the Prodigal by his father recalls the reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus, also father and son, but even more the reunion of Telemachus and Eumaeus, his father’s faithful servant: “The last words were not out of his mouth when his [Odysseus’] own son appeared in the gateway. Eumaeus jumped up in amazement, and the bowls in which he had been busy mixing the sparkling wine tumbled out of his grasp. He ran forward to meet his young master. He kissed his lovely eyes and then kissed his right hand and his left, while the tears streamed down his cheeks. Like a fond father welcoming his son after nine years abroad, his only son, the apple of his eye and the centre of all his anxious cares, the admirable swineherd threw his arms around Prince Telemachus and showered kisses on him as though he had just escaped from death.”

            Next, Luke splits Odysseus into two characters, the two brothers. The elder son also returns from being away, albeit only out in the field (the scene of conflict between another famous pair of brothers, Cain and Abel). Returning, he is dismayed, like Odysseus, to discover a feast in progress. (Here we must note also the echo of Exodus 32:18, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of... singing that I hear!”) It is a feast in honor of a profligate, as the elder brother is quick to point out, just like that of Penelope’s suitors. And, just as their feast is predicated upon the assumption of Odysseus’ death, the Prodigal’s father explains to the elder son that they must feast since the Prodigal was dead and has now returned alive, as Odysseus is about to do.

            Deuteronomy 22:1-4 stipulates all manner of lost objects which must be returned if found, just as Luke 15:3-7 and 8-10 provide examples of lost things zealously sought and found. The first of these is an appropriate Q parable, that of the Lost Sheep (see also Matthew 18:10-14), while the second, the parable of the Lost Coin, is presumably Luke’s own creation, reminiscent of the uniquely Lukan parable of the Yeast (3:20-21) and his story of Martha (10:38-42), each with its busy housekeeper.


t. Masters, Slaves, Money, and Divorce (Deuteronomy 23:15-24:4; Luke 16:1-18)

Luke skips Deuteronomy 22:5-23:14, a catch-all.

            Luke appears to have used the Deuteronomy 23 provision for the welcoming of an escaped slave to live in one’s midst as the basis for his parable of the Dishonest Steward, who must soon leave his master’s employ and so manipulates his master’s accounts as to assure he will be welcomed into his grateful clients’ midst after his dismissal.

            Luke has nothing particular to say concerning cult prostitutes (“priestitutes,” one might call them) and vows, but the Deuteronomic discussion of debts and usury inspires him to accuse the Pharisees of being “lovers of money.” Greed like theirs is an “abomination” (bdelugma) before God, a word he has borrowed from the same Deuteronomic passage’s condemnation of a man remarrying his divorced wife after a second man has also divorced her. On the question of divorce, Luke oddly juxtaposes against the Deuteronomic provision the diametrically opposite Markan rejection of divorce, even while adding that the Torah cannot change!


u. Vindication of the Poor, of Lepers; Fair Judges (Deuteronomy 24:6-25:3; Luke 16:19-18:8)

Inspired by Deuteronomy’s injunctions concerning fair treatment of the poor, Luke has created the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, probably basing it upon both the Egyptian Tale of the Two Brothers, where the postmortem fates of two men are disclosed as a lesson for the living, and the rabbinic parable of the tax-collector Bar-Majan (Hagigah, II, 77d), whose single act of charity (inviting the poor to a banquet when his invited guests, the respectable rich, did not show up) accounted karmically for his sumptuous funeral, but failed to mitigate his torments in hell afterward.

            Luke places the Q saying about the millstone (Luke 17:1-2//Matthew18:6-7) to match the Deuteronomic mention of a millstone as the irreplaceable tool of one’s trade (24:6), a mere catchword connection.

            The provision for a leper’s cure and certification (Deuteronomy 24:8-9) prompts Luke to create another pro-Samaritan story (with Deuteronomy 24:14’s counsel to treat the sojourning foreigner fairly also in mind). It is the story of the nine Jewish lepers whom Jesus cures without thanks versus the single Samaritan who returns to thank Jesus. The centrality of the motif of praising/thanking God for a miracle, elsewhere Luke’s redactional addition to older miracle stories, brands this one as completely Lukan.

            Deuteronomy 24:17-18, 25:1-3 concern fair judgments rendered on behalf of the poor and fair treatment of widows. Luke required no more inspiration than this to create his parable of the Unjust Judge who delays vindicating a widow too poor to bribe him till she finally wears him out. This he uses to advocate patience in prayer: if even a corrupt judge will at length give in to a just petition, cannot the righteous God be expected to answer just prayers in his own time?


v. Confessing One’s Righteousness (Deuteronomy 26; Luke 18:9-14)

Luke skips Deuteronomy 25:4-19, about Levirate marriage, false weights, etc.

            Deuteronomy 26:12-15 allows that one offering the firstfruits of his crops may confess his own perfect obedience to the commandments, provided one has done so, and thus may rightly claim God’s blessing on the land. This must have struck Luke as pretentious and presumptuous, and he satirizes the section in his parable of the Pharisee (whose self-praise in the guise of prayer echoes that of Deuteronomy) and the Publican (counted righteous by virtue of his humble self-condemnation).


7. The Ascension (24:49-53)

Luke’s ascension narrative (the only one in the gospels) is based primarily upon the account of Elijah’s ascension in 2 Kings 2 (Brodie, p. 254-264), though he seems to have added elements of Josephus’ story of Moses’ ascension as well (“And as soon as they were come to the mountain called Abarim..., he was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, [when] a cloud stood over him on the sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley” Antiquities V. 1. 48, Whiston trans.). In 2 Kings 2:9, Elijah and Elisha agree on the master’s bequest to his disciple: Elisha is to receive a double share of Elijah’s mighty spirit, i.e., power. Likewise, just before his own ascension, Jesus announces to his disciples his own bequest: “the promise of my father” (Luke 24:49). It will be a “clothing” with power, recalling Elijah’ miracle of parting the Jordan with his own rolled-up mantle (1 Kings 2:12). Both Elijah and Jesus are assumed into heaven (1 Kings 2:11; Luke 24:50-53: Acts 1:1-1), the former with the aid of Apollo’s chariot, but both are pointedly separated from their disciples (2 Kings 2:11; Luke 24:51). After this, the promised spirit comes, empowering the disciples (2 Kings 2:15; Acts 2:4). And just as Elijah’s ascent is witnessed by disciples, whose search failed to turn up his body (2 Kings 2:16-18), so is Jesus’ after they find only an empty tomb (Luke 24:3; Acts 1:9-11).


E. The Gospel of John

1. Nathaniel (1:43-51)

As all commentators agree, this episode is based on Jacob’s dream of the ladder/stairway between heaven and earth, with angels going up and down along it (Genesis 28:11-17ff). Nathaniel is to be a New Testament Jacob, lacking the shrewd worldliness of his prototype.


2. Water into Wine (2:1-11)

Though the central feature of this miracle story, the transformation of one liquid into another, no doubt comes from the lore of Dionysus, the basic outline of the story owes much to the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24 LXX (Helms, p. 86). The widow of Zarephath, whose son has just died, upbraids the prophet: “What have I to do with you, O man of God?” (Ti emoi kai soi, 17:18). John has transferred this brusque address to the mouth of Jesus, rebuking his mother (2:4, Ti emoi kai soi, gunai). Jesus and Elijah both tell people in need of provisions to take empty pitchers (udria in 1 Kings 17:12, udriai in John 2:6-7), from which sustenance miraculously emerges. And just as this feat causes the woman to declare her faith in Elijah (“I know that you are a man of God,” v. 24), so does Jesus’ wine miracle cause his disciples to put their faith in him (v. 11).


3. The Samaritan Woman (4:1-44)

As Robert Alter notes (p. 48), this scene is a variant of the “type scene” which frequently recurs in the Bible of a young man leaving home and coming to a well where he meets young women, one of whom he marries. Other instances and variants include Genesis 24 (Abraham’s servant meets Rebecca), Genesis 29 (Jacob meets Rachel); Exodus 2 (Moses meets Zipporah): Ruth 2 (Ruth meets Boaz); and 1 Samuel 9 (Saul meets the maidens at Zuph). But Helms (pp. 89-90) adds 1 Kings 17, where, again, Elijah encounters the widow of Zarephath, and it is this story which seems to have supplied the immediate model for John 4. Elijah and Jesus alike leave home turf for foreign territory. Each is thirsty and meets a woman of whom he asks a drink of water. In both stories the woman departs from the pattern of the type scene because, though having no husband as in the type scene, she is mature and lacks a husband for other reasons. The woman of Zarephath is a widow, while the Samaritan woman has given up on marriage, having had five previous husbands, now dead or divorced, and is presently just cohabiting. In both stories it is really the woman who stands in need more than the prophet, and the latter offers the boon of a miraculously self-renewing supply of nourishment, Elijah that of physical food, Jesus that of the water of everlasting life. Just as the widow exclaims that Elijah must have come to disclose her past sins (“You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance,” 1 Kings 17:18), the Samaritan admits Jesus has the goods on her as well (“He told me all that I ever did,” John 4:39).


5. Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene (20:1, 11-18)

This story owes much to the self-disclosure of the angel Raphael at the climax of the Book of Tobit (Helms, pp. 146-147). When Tobias first saw Raphael, he “did not know” he was really an angel (Tobit 5:5), just as when Mary, weeping outside the tomb, first saw Jesus there, she “did not know” who he really was (20:14). Having delivered Sarah from her curse, Raphael reveals himself to Tobit and his son Tobias and announces, his work being done, that “I am ascending to him who sent me” (Tobit 12:20), just as Jesus tells Mary, “I am ascending to my father and your father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). Why does the risen Jesus warn Mary “Touch/hold me not, for I have not yet ascended to the father” (20:17a)? This is probably an indication of docetism, that Jesus (at least the risen Jesus) cannot be touched, not having (any longer?) a fleshly body (the story was not originally followed by the Doubting Thomas story with its tactile proofs, hence need not be consistent with it; note that in 20:17b Jesus seems to anticipate not seeing the disciples again). The reason for seeing docetism here is the parallel it would complete between John 20 and the Raphael revelation/ascension scene, where the angel explains (Tobit 12:19), “All these days I merely appeared to you and did not eat or drink, but you were seeing a vision” (i.e., a semblance).


F. Acts of the Apostles

1. Pentecost (2:1-4ff)

The whole scene comes, obviously, from the descent of the Mosaic spirit upon the seventy elders in Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25, with an assist from Euripides’ The Bacchae, where we read “Flames flickered in their curls and did not burn them” (757-758), just as tongues of fire blazed harmlessly above the heads of the apostles (Acts 2:3). Ecstatic speech caused some bystanders to question the sobriety of the disciples, but Peter defends them (“These are not drunk as you suppose” Acts 2:15a), as does Pentheus’ messenger: “Not, as you think, drunk with wine” (686-687).


2. Ananias and Sapphira; the Martyrdom of Stephen (5:1-11; 6:8-15)

The conspiracy of Ahab and Jezebel to cheat the pious Naboth out of his vineyard (1 Kings 20:1-21:21) has provided Luke the raw material for two of the most exciting episodes of Acts, those of Ananias and Sapphira and of Stephen (Brodie, pp. 271-275). Ahab finds himself obsessed with Naboth’s vineyard, which seems more desirable to him, since he cannot possess it, than all his royal possessions. Jezebel advises him to take what he wants by devious means. Luke has punningly made Naboth into the righteous Barnabas, and now it is the latter’s donation (rather than possession) of a field that excites a wicked couple’s jealousy. Ananias plays Ahab, Sapphira Jezebel. Only they do not conspire to murder anyone. That element Luke reserves for the martyrdom of Stephen. The crime of Ananias and Sapphira is borrowed instead from that of Achan (Judges 7), who appropriated for himself treasure ear-marked for God. Ananias and Sapphira have sold a field (wanting to be admired like Barnabas), but they have kept back some of the money while claiming to have donated the full price. They have no business keeping the rest: it is rightfully God’s since they have dedicated it as “devoted to the Lord.” Peter confronts Ananias and Sapphira, just as Joshua did Achan (Joshua 7:25) and as Elijah confronted Ahab (1 Kings 20:17-18). Luke takes the earlier note about Ahab’s disturbance in spirit (20:4) and makes it into the charge that Ananias and Sapphira had lied to the Spirit of God (Acts 5:3b-4, 9b). Elijah and Peter pronounce death sentences on the guilty, and those of Ananias and Sapphira (like Achan’s) transpire at once (Acts 5:5a, 10a), while those of Ahab and Jezebel delay for some time. Fear fell on all who heard of Ananias’ and Sapphira’s fate, recalling the fear of God sparked in poor indecisive Ahab by Elijah’s doom oracle (1 Kings 20:27-29). Not long after the Naboth incident we learn that the young men of Israel defeated the greedy Syrians (21:1-21), a tale which likely made Luke think of having the young men (never in evidence elsewhere in Acts) carry out and bury the bodies of the greedy couple (Acts 5:6, 10b).

            Returning to the hapless Naboth, he has become Stephen, Acts’ proto-martyr. Naboth was railroaded by the schemes of Jezebel. She directed the elders and freemen to set up Naboth, condemning him through lying witnesses. Stephen suffers the same at the hands of the Synagogue of Freedmen. Stephen, like Naboth, is accused of double blasphemy  (Naboth: God and king; Stephen: Moses and God) Both are carried outside the city limits and stoned to death. When Ahab heard of the fruit of his desires, he tore his garments in remorse. Luke has carried this over into the detail that young Saul of Tarsus checked the coats of the stoning mob.


3. The Ethiopian Eunuch (8:26-40)

The story of the Ethiopian eunuch and of Philip the evangelist recalls several key features of the story of Elijah and Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-14) (Brodie, pp. 316-327). The Elijah narrative depicts both healing (from leprosy) and conversion (from Syrian Rimmon-worship), while the Acts version tells only of conversion (from Godfearer to Christian). Luke was apparently reluctant to strain plausibility or good taste by having Philip physically restore a eunuch! Both Naaman and the Ethiopian are foreign officials of high status, both close to their monarchs (2 Kings 5:5; Acts 8:27c). Naaman came to Samaria to ask the king’s help in contacting the prophet Elisha. The Ethiopian for his part had journeyed to Jerusalem to seek God in the Temple worship, but the need of his heart remained unmet. This he was to find satisfied on his way home (like those other Lukan characters, the Emmaus disciples, Luke 24:13ff). The Israelite king fails to grasp the meaning of the letter Naaman presents to him, but a word from the prophet supplies the lack, just as Luke has the Ethiopian fail to grasp the true import of the prophetic scroll he reads till the hitchhiking evangelist offers commentary. In both cases salvation is to be sought by immersion. Naaman initially balks, but his servant persuades him. Luke has this temporizing in mind when he has the Ethiopian ask rhetorically, “What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Healing and/or conversion follow, though in both cases the official must return, alone in his faith, to his heathen court.


4. Paul’s Conversion (9:1-21)

As the great Tübingen critics already saw, the story of Paul’s visionary encounter with the risen Jesus not only has no real basis in the Pauline epistles but has been derived by Luke more or less directly from 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus. In it one Benjaminite named Simon (3:4) tells Apollonius of Tarsus, governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (3:5), that the Jerusalem Temple houses unimaginable wealth that the Seleucid king might want to appropriate for himself. Once the king learns of this, he sends his agent Heliodorus to confiscate the loot. The prospect of such a violation of the Temple causes universal wailing and praying among the Jews. But Heliodorus is miraculously turned back when a shining warrior angel appears on horseback. The stallion’s hooves knock Heliodorus to the ground, where two more angels lash him with whips (25-26). He is blinded and is unable to help himself, carried to safety on a stretcher. Pious Jews pray for his recovery, lest the people be held responsible for his condition. The angels reappear to Heliodorus, in answer to these prayers, and they announce God’s grace to him: Heliodorus will live and must henceforth proclaim the majesty of the true God. Heliodorus offers sacrifice to his Saviour (3:35) and departs again for Syria, where he reports all this to the king. In Acts the plunder of the Temple has become the persecution of the church by Saul (also called Paulus, an abbreviated form of Apollonius), a Benjaminite from Tarsus. Heliodorus’ appointed journey to Jerusalem from Syria has become Saul’s journey from Jerusalem to Syria. Saul is stopped in his tracks by a heavenly visitant, goes blind and must be taken into the city, where the prayers of his former enemies avail to raise him up. Just as Heliodorus offers sacrifice, Saul undergoes baptism. Then he is told henceforth to proclaim the risen Christ, which he does.

            Luke has again added details from Euripides. In The Bacchae, in a sequence Luke has elsewhere rewritten into the story of Paul in Philippi (Portefaix, pp. 170), Dionysus has appeared in Thebes as an apparently mortal missionary for his own sect. He runs afoul of his cousin, King Pentheus who wants the licentious cult (as he views it) to be driven out of the country. He arrests and threatens Dionysus, only to find him freed from prison by an earthquake. Dionysus determines revenge against the proud and foolish king by magically compelling Pentheus to undergo conversion to faith in him (“Though hostile formerly, he now declares a truce and goes with us. You see what you could not when you were blind,” 922-924) and sending Pentheus, in woman’s guise, to spy upon the Maenads, his female revelers. He does so, is discovered, and is torn limb from limb by the women, led by his own mother. As the hapless Pentheus leaves, unwittingly, to meet his doom, Dionysus comments, “Punish this man. But first distract his wits; bewilder him with madness... After those threats with which he was so fierce, I want him made the laughingstock of Thebes” (850-851, 854-855). “He shall come to know Dionysus, son of Zeus, consummate god, most terrible, and yet most gentle, to mankind” (859-861). Pentheus must be made an example, as must poor Saul, despite himself. His conversion is a punishment, meting out to the persecutor his own medicine. Do we not detect a hint of ironic malice in Christ’s words to Ananias about Saul? “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).


5. Peter’s Vision (10:9-16)

To prime the reluctant apostle for his visit to the dwelling of the Roman Cornelius, God sends Peter a vision, one recycled from the early chapters of Ezekiel (Helms, pp. 20-21). First Peter beholds the heavens open (thn ouranon anewgmenon, 10:11), just like Ezekiel did (hnoicqhsan oi ouranoi, Ezekiel 1:1 LXX). Peter sees a vast sheet of sailcloth containing every kind of animal, ritually clean and unclean, and the heavenly voice commands him, “Eat!” (Fagh, Acts 10:13), just as Ezekiel is shown a scroll and told to “Eat!” (Fagh, Ezekiel 2:9 LXX). Peter is not eager to violate kosher laws and so balks at the command. “By no means, Lord!” (MhdamwV, Kurie, Acts 10:14), echoing Ezekiel verbatim, MhdamwV, Kurie (Ezekiel 4:14 LXX), when the latter is commanded to cook his food over a dung fire. Peter protests that he has never eaten anything unclean (akaqarton) before (10:14), nor has Ezekiel (akaqarsia, 4:14 LXX).



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