Friday 29 March 2013

Was the Author of Matthew's Gospel Jewish? (Part 3)

I think I should give a résumé of the argument so far. As you read, I'm sorry for the formatting of this post - I can't get my Hebrew to line up with my translations given the right-to-left nature of Hebrew. Please bear with this.

A Summary of the Arguments So Far
Matthew's Gospel has, for a long time, been considered the most jewish of all four gospels considered canonical by christian churches. In my series of posts about Mark Goodacre's critique of Francesca Stavrakopoulou's views on the virginal conception, I pointed out that Goodacre seemed to take it for granted that Matthew was a devout Jew who knew his scriptures well. Goodacre is far from alone in his viewpoint, but actually the question of whether Matthew was a devout Jew, or even not a Jew at all, is a live one in modern biblical criticism.

I should mention that in contrast to Matthew's Gospel, Luke's Gospel has traditionally been considered as largely gentile.

Until the advent of biblical criticism, this "jewishness" view of Matthew's Gospel was largely based on "tradition" of who wrote the Gospel, rather than on a detailed analysis of the Gospel text itself. There are good reasons for thinking that this tradition may not contain reliable information handed down by those who actually knew who wrote the Gospel. This doesn't mean that the tradition is necessarily wrong, but it does lend importance to examining the text of the Gospel itself to see if there is anything there which might give a clue.

But how can you tell from a text if an author is jewish or not? And if Matthew was jewish, then how devout and knowledgable about judaism was he? In particular, are there signs which betray his intimate familiarity with the judaism(s) of his day? Alternatively, are there other signs which indicate that he considers himself separate from the religion, or lacking in knowledge about it?

These questions were addressed relatively briefly by Udo Schnelle in his The New Testament Writings, which has become a standard technical introduction to the New Testament (taking over this mantle from Werner Kümmel's Introduction to the New Testament). He set out what I have called "for and against lists" for Matthew's jewishness. Each list looks rather impressive when read in isolation from the other, although I spent some time in my last two posts criticizing the strength of some of the arguments on both sides.

A Further Argument
However, in his list of arguments against Matthew having been jewish, Schnelle has missed one which is very common these days. This argument concerns Matthew's complete misunderstanding of "Hebrew parallelism", a feature found in almost all poetic books of the Hebrew scriptures of his day and, albeit to a significantly lesser extent, in some prose texts . I have to confess I don't know from where this argument originates; like so many people, I first came across it thanks to Bart Ehrman's The New Testament, A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (p.118, fourth edition 2008), but it almost certainly didn't originate from Ehrman.

Before turning to the Matthean text, we need to take a look at this concept of "Hebrew parallelism".

What is Hebrew Parallelism?
Even if you have never come across this term, if you are familiar with the large percentage (exact figures are disputed - but it's often estimated at about 33%, sometimes significantly more) of the Hebrew bible that is poetry, you will undoubtedly have read a good deal of Hebrew parallelism, although perhaps you have read it in translation; it is probably a feature that you have kind of figured out yourself - because it's that widespread.

I've not been entirely satisfied with definitions of Hebrew parallelism that I've found, so let's start with an example. Psalm 103:10 says:
לֹא כַחֲטָאֵינוּ עָשָׂה לָנוּ
וְלֹא כַעֲוֹנֹתֵינוּ גָּמַל עָלֵינוּ׃
Not according to our sins has he done to us,
And not according to our iniquities has he dealt with us.
You can see here that the two lines of the verse treat one subject. The second line says pretty much exactly the same as the first, just in different words. Of course I've put the verse in two lines so as to show this (early manuscripts probably didn't line it up this way), but the principle still remains that there are two clauses outlining the same thing.

The majority of Hebrew parallelism occurs in this two-line couplet structure. But there are some examples of three-line, four-line and even greater number of lines to parallelism. I'll restrict myself to two-line parallelism because, not only is it by far the most common type, but it's the easiest to spot and decipher.

Psalm 103:10 given above is an example of synonymous parallelism, and there are indeed a number of different categories of parallelism; in fact there are a number of different ways to categorize parallelism, and I'll go through one of these here. Please do bear in mind that categorisations are loose and challengeable.

1) Synonymous Parallelism
We have already seen Psalm 103:10 above where the two lines mean pretty much exactly the same thing. I haven't seen any statistics on this, but from my reading I would say that synonymous parallelism is the most common type. Just how close do the two lines need to be to each other? Well here's another example where the meaning is very close indeed. This is the second half of Micah 6:2:
כִּי רִיב לַיהוָה עִם־עַמּוֹ
וְעִם־יִשְׂרָאֵל יִתְוַכָּח׃
For Yahweh has a quarrel with his people,
With Israel he disputes.
I think you can see that the two lines mean the same thing; they are slightly further removed from each other than the previous example, as the second line relies on the implicit subject rather than repeating "Yahweh", and "his people" is paired with "Israel". If you read Hebrew you'll see the syntactical difference between the two lines as well (a possessive form changes to a verbal form).

Despite these differences, the two lines remain clearly synonymous - they mean the same thing.

Because synonymous parallelism is so common, it's worth giving a third example. Here's Proverbs 6:20:
נְצֹר בְּנִי מִצְוַת אָבִיךָ
וְאַל־תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ׃
Keep, my son, the commandments of your father,
And do not forsake the instruction of your mother.
Now this one is also considered synonymous, even though we have a different parent in each line. Yes, there is this difference, but the overall idea is the same - obey your parents!

I wanted to include this example to show that synonymous parallelism can contain differences between the two (or more) lines; it's the overall idea expressed by the lines that needs to be the same. Indeed small differences between the lines are quite common, inevitably so - it would get rather boring if every line in synonymous parallelism were exactly the same!

2) Antithetical Parallelism
This is where one line gives the converse of the other line. Proverbs 10:1 gives another nice familial example:
בֵּן חָכָם יְשַׂמַּח־אָב
וּבֵן כְּסִיל תּוּגַת אִמּוֹ׃
A wise son brings gladness to a father,
But a foolish son is grief to his mother.
Here the two lines don't say the same thing, rather they say the converse which, taken together, give a unified overall idea. Note again how in the example here we have two different parents in the two lines - we don't need them to be identical for parallelism to work; I'm sure the writer would have considered a foolish son to be grief to his father just as much to his mother!

3) Chiastic Parallelism
In chiastic parallelism it is the order of elements that count. The first line will provide an order of elements (say, A then B then C) which will be reversed in the second line (C then B then A). Here's probably the most simple example - the opening of Jeremiah 4:5:
הַגִּידוּ בִיהוּדָה
וּבִירוּשָׁלִַם הַשְׁמִיעוּ
Announce [it] in-Judah,
In-Jerusalem make-[it]-heard
This chiastic structure is probably more difficult to spot if you don't read Hebrew - you're reliant on translators conveying it well, which is difficult to do. Even in this simple example, if you didn't know that "in" is a prefix to both "Judah" and to "Jerusalem" you might miss the chiastic structure in translation. I've resorted to using hyphens to indicate single words in Hebrew - I don't think many translations would go to these lengths!

Note how the two lines are synonymous, although Judah and Jerusalem stand for each other (as they do in many other places).

As chiastic parallelism is often lost in translation, I'll give another example to whet your appetite. Here's Psalm 89:35:
לֹא־אֲחַלֵּל בְּרִיתִי
וּמוֹצָא שְׂפָתַי לֹא אֲשַׁנֶּה׃
Nor will-I-break my-covenant
The-utterance of-my-lips not I-will-change
Hmm, my hyphens don't really help that much with this one (e.g. I've had to single out "not" in a peculiar place in the second line), but I hope you get the idea.

4) Staircase Parallelism
Staircase parallelism is also about structure. Whereas chiastic parallelism could be represented by two lines as follows:
staircase parallelism would be more like:
That is, you climb the stairs twice, but the second time you arrive at a different destination. Here's Judges 5:12:
עוּרִי עוּרִי דְּבוֹרָה
עוּרִי עוּרִי דַּבְּרִי־שִׁיר
Awake, awake Deborah!
Awake, awake, chant a song!
5) Janus Parallelism
In Roman mythology Janus was a two faced god who, thanks to his two faces, could look in two directions at once - right/left, front/back or more figuratively future/past. In Janus parallelism there is a word which has two meanings, and the parallelism hinges on this word - a sort of double entendre.

Janus parallelism is immensely difficult, if not impossible, to translate. So you'll have to bear with me for this example. Here's Canticles 2:12
הַנִּצָּנִים נִרְאוּ בָאָרֶץ
עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ
וְקוֹל הַתּוֹר נִשְׁמַע בְּאַרְצֵנוּ׃
Okay, so how do we translate this? Well it depends how you take the word in red (if this has come out in red on the blog). This word can have two meanings; firstly it could be "the pruning" which fits in well with the first clause; secondly it could mean "the singing" which would fit in well with the second clause. So we can translate this as follows (I've numbered the clauses so you can see where the break is):
(1) The blossoms have appeared in the land,
the time of the pruning/singing has arrived
(2) and the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land.
And why is this parallelism? Because the whole verse is about the signs of the arrival of spring.

Janus parallelism is quite rare in the Hebrew bible, which is perhaps fortunate considering how difficult it is to translate!

Hebrew Parallelism - a Summary
There are other categories of parallelism that I could outline. Alternatively, parallelism could be divided differently into different categories.

The point that I'm trying to make from all the above is that parallelism is very widespread in its different forms in the Hebrew bible. If you are someone who is familiar with the Hebrew bible I hope that, as you have read the few examples I've given above, you will think to yourself, "Oh yes, I see this all the time". Perhaps, if you read in translation, you'll miss particularly chiastic and Janus parallelism, because these ones are very hard to convey in translation but, overall, parallelism should be very familiar to you indeed.

Similarly, if the author of Matthew's Gospel was familiar with the Hebrew bible, he should also have been familiar with this form of poetry. Undoubtedly, he would not have divided parallelisms into categories as I have done; but he would recognize what was going on when he met an example of parallelism.

Matthew's Unfamiliarity with Scripture
We have already seen in previous posts some examples where the author of Matthew's Gospel shows dubious-at-best familiarity with jewish scriptures of his day. I'll now turn to a passage in Matthew which shows just how unfamiliar he was with the very widespread feature of Hebrew poetry that is Hebrew parallelism. In fact he was so ignorant of this feature that he created a little absurdity in his Gospel.

If you remember, it is widely accepted in modern scholarship that Matthew's Gospel took Mark's Gospel as one of his sources. Matthew has the story of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem in 21:1-9, which he has taken largely from the equivalent story in Mark 11:1-10. The stories share, amongst other things, the following elements:
  1. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and comes near to the village of Bethphage.
  2. Jesus instructs two disciples to go and find mounted transport, with specific instructions as to what to say to anyone who questions this action.
  3. The two disciples carry out this instruction and bring mounted transport to Jesus.
  4. They lay cloaks (ἱμάτιον) on the mounted transport, and Jesus mounts on top.
  5. Proceeding towards Jerusalem, they are met by crowds who lay branches in their path and cry "Hosanna".

There are two major differences between the two versions, both of which are linked. In the earlier text (Mark's) Jesus, quite reasonably, is sitting on one animal - a horse (πῶλος). This is sometimes translated as "colt" or even "foal", but BDAG (a standard Greek lexicon) makes it clear that this term can refer to a horse of any age, and clearly it was old enough to ride.

In Matthew's derived version, bizarrely Jesus sits astride two steeds (καὶ ἐπεκάθισεν ἐπάνω αὐτῶν - notice the use of the aorist and how this describes the completed action); one of these is a horse (πῶλος) just as in Mark's Gospel; the other steed is an ass (ὄνος).

Why does Matthew introduce this extraordinary change to Mark's version, and render his account so unrealistic? Well the reason for this is the other difference in Matthew's version: Matthew has gone searching for a scripture to provide a fulfillment for this episode. He has hit upon Zechariah 9:9 - a quite long verse which has two (arguably three) examples of parallelism in it - and cited it as a fulfillment quotation in Matt 21:5.

Matthew doesn't get the first example of parallelism in this verse at all - a shame really, because it is a very clear example of synonymous parallelism:
גִּילִי מְאֹד בַּת־צִיּוֹן
הָרִיעִי בַּת יְרוּשָׁלִַם
Rejoice greatly daughter of Zion,
Cry out daughter of Jerusalem
A more exact synonymity would be hard to find! Matthew, strangely, has rendered this as (21:5):
Εἴπατε τῇ θυγατρὶ Σιών
Say to the daughter of Zion
So not only does he miss the parallelism here, he has a mistranslation of the text, which again is a shame, because the Hebrew text here would have fitted his context quite nicely. Instead, perhaps he has confused the opening of Zechariah 9:9 with a clause from Isaiah 62:11, which unfortunately really doesn't fit his context at all.

But Matthew's biggest problem is missing the parallelism at the end of Zechariah 9:9:
עָנִי וְרֹכֵב עַל־חֲמוֹר
וְעַל־עַיִר בֶּן־אֲתֹנוֹת׃
Lowly and riding on an ass,
and on a male-ass, son of a she-ass.
How many animals are we talking about here? Just the one, evidently as we're dealing with synonymous parallelism (albeit the one ass is an offspring of a second, its mother), but Matthew just doesn't get it! Matthew fails to recognize that we have parallelism in the text, and so thinks he has two animals at work here. So he takes a perfectly reasonable story from Mark and renders it absurd by having Jesus mount two animals at once.

Is this really the kind of mistake that someone familiar with Hebrew scriptures could make? If he was such an educated Jew as is frequently maintained (as Mark Goodacre did in his podcast), then he had a singularly brainless moment here! Personally, I think this beggars credibility. Rather, as we have already seen, Matthew's knowledge of jewish scripture of his time was rather limited.

Finding A Path Through The Data
So what are we to do with all this? We have strong evidence both that:
  • the author of Matthew's Gospel was very familiar with judaism and had a strong connection with it, yet
  • that he felt distant from judaism and had complete failures to understand its texts.

I think the first thing to do is rule out the extremes. It simply isn't possible (pace Goodacre) to say that Matthew was a very devout and educated Jew, steeped in the scriptures and judaic customs of his day. Nor is it possible to hold that Matthew was entirely disconnected with judaism and uninfluenced by its ideas, traditions and scriptures.

Of course this leaves scope for a very wide range of options in between these two extremes, and a degree of judgement must be exercised when weighing up the evidence we have spent 3 posts examining (and perhaps others will have more evidence).

In terms of Matthew's familiarity with scriptures, we have seen that his knowledge is incredibly shaky; he seems to have skimped on his research into this area (if he did any); he is reliant on the Greek translation of his day, but can't get that right; he is unfamiliar with basic principles of Hebrew scriptural writings. If he was a Jew, he certainly wasn't one who had the opportunity or inclination to familiarize himself with Hebrew scriptures. But this still leaves plenty of room for him to have considered himself a Jew.

Matthew, if he was jewish, has also abandoned the idea that Israel has a unique place in god's salvific history. This is a considerable shift for a Jew to make. It is certainly very possible the later the Gospel is dated. If the Gospel were dated, as many scholars do, to the 80s, I find it hard to believe that a Jew would have moved this far in their thinking.

One Proposal Among Many
If Matthew was not jewish, then the strong jewish features of his Gospel have to be accounted for somehow. I think it is inevitable that Matthew's religious community at the time of the writing of his Gospel must have contained significant numbers of Jews; if this weren't the case it would hardly be possible to explain the numerous jewish references in his Gospel.

Is it possible the Matthew was not only writing for a jewish readership but, being himself a Gentile, was assisted by jewish members of his religious group? Perhaps in this scenario, Matthew was very keen to become educated in jewish beliefs, customs and scriptures; after all the founder of his religious movement, Jesus, had himself been a Jew and the movement had started within judaism and was probably still strongly associated with judaism in Matthew's day. Perhaps this keenness was not accompanied by the time and opportunity to get more than a basic understanding of the jewish religion; he himself would be dependent on Greek translations of jewish scriptures, whether those already in circulation (the Old Greek, aka LXX) or those provided on spec by jewish members of his religious group.

I think the above would represent one possibility that fits the data; there are, however, numerous others, including some where Matthew is jewish himself, but operates with limited knowledge of scriptures in Hebrew and a significant degree of detachment from the religion of his birth.

In the final examination, other than eliminating the extremes as outlined above, we simply don't have enough data to explain the tensions in the Gospel pertaining to Matthew's jewishness or lack thereof.

Monday 18 March 2013

Was the Author of Matthew's Gospel Jewish? (Part 2)

In my last post I outlined the arguments for concluding that the author of Matthew Gospel was jewish; in fact proponents of this view generally consider him to have been a devout Jew. I started with something about how the traditional view arose, and why the arguments behind it are discounted these days, although that doesn't mean that the traditional view is necessarily wrong. Then I ran through Udo Schnelle's first list - the arguments, from the text itself, that Matthew was a (devout) Jew.

In this post I run through Schnelle's list against Matthew being a Jew or, at the very least, a devout Jew. However before I start looking at this list, I'm very conscious that this is an internet blog - an arena where some unpleasant things can be said, and I think I'd better make some brief comments to address this head on.

Anti-Semitism, Christianity and the Internet
In christianity there is a long history of anti-semitism, and in certain places of the internet, such bigotry, whether connected or unconnected with christianity, soemtimes raises its ugly head. I very much hope that my comments here will not attract this kind of input - I still have moderation of comments turned off, but I will keep this under close review.

Arguments that I outline below that Matthew may not have been jewish, or at least not as devoutly jewish as he has often been portrayed, should not be taken as giving succour to racism. 

Udo Schnelle's List For Gentile Standpoint of Matthew's Gospel:
Again for this post I take Schnelle's list items as sub headings.

a) The Gospel's offer of salvation to all clearly points to a Gentile mission that has been underway for some time (cf. Matt 28:18-20; 8:11-12; 10:18; 12:18, 21; 13:38a; 21:43-45; 22:1-14; 24:14; 25:32; 26:13).
In part this point of Schnelle's is the converse of his point c in his previous list; i.e. contrary to his point there, Matthew does in fact include in his Gospel all nations, not just Israel. The fact that Matthew finishes his Gospel with the great commission to go and make disciples of all nations, serves to counteract any impression of favouritism to Israel.

But in fact some of the passages he lists here go beyond that. Take Matt 8:11-12:
11 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι πολλοὶ ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ δυσμῶν ἥξουσιν καὶ ἀνακλιθήσονται μετὰ Ἀβραὰμ καὶ Ἰσαὰκ καὶ Ἰακὼβ ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν,  12 οἱ δὲ υἱοὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἐκβληθήσονται εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον· ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.
11 But I say to you that many from the East and West will come and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens. 12 But the children of the kingdom will be cast out to outer darkness; there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. 
This looks like a condemnation of jewish religion of the day and promotion of a more gentile viewpoint.

Another thing to note here is the quantity and spread of these salvific messages for Gentiles as opposed to the briefer lineup in point c of his previous list.

b) The nullification of ritual laws (cf. Matt 15:11, 20b; 23:25-26).
Of course the new religious movement that became christianity rejected the food laws at some point, and partly these passages fit into that pattern. However the combination of rejection of food laws with purity rituals around eating food (particularly in the chapter 15 passage) does show considerable movement on from the judaism(s) contemporary with Jesus.

c) The Matthean critique of the Law. Especially in the Antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21-48) Jesus places his authority higher than that of Moses, for which there is no parallel in ancient Judaism.
It's hard to add to what Schnelle outlines here, and I think this one is a particularly strong argument for a radical gap between Matthew's view of his religion and the judaism(s) of his time. Notice how the "crowds" in Matthew's Gospel accept this usurping of Moses' authority; well beyond the section of the sermon comprising the antitheses, indeed right at the end of the entire sermon, the crowds mention Jesus' authority, and do so in a positive way (Matt. 7:28f).

Moreover, there's no sympathetic treatment for Mosaic law here; the antitheses are simply stated, with the assumption that the audience will have to, in modern vernacular, "deal with it". No veneration, no explanation as to why the change, no attempt to rescue cherished traditions. It really is quite striking.

d) Matthew presents a thoroughgoing polemic against Pharisaic casuistry (cf. Matt 5:20; 6:1ff; 9:9ff; 12:1ff, 9ff; 15:1ff; 19:1ff; 23:1ff).
I find arguments that involve condemnation of the pharisees weaker (particularly compared with the preceding argument). "Inter-nicene" polemics, I find, really don't add much to the debate about the jewishness of Matthew. Rather, clearly he didn't agree with the pharisees; well there were plenty of Jews who didn't! So I find most of these passages really don't answer the question of how jewish Matthew was.

Where, however, the dialogue can be widened out to reflect a greater range of judaism than simply the pharisaic perspective, then perhaps the argument is stronger.

This is perhaps possible with a number of these passages, but certainly the Matt. 6:1ff section of the sermon on the mount. Indeed, I don't know why Schnelle includes this text in the "pharisaic casuistry" section, as pharisees aren't mentioned here (have I missed something?). This passage does seem to constitute criticism of widespread jewish practice of the time in "synagogues" and so probably does add to his argument overall, although I think he has mis-categorized it.

e) Matthew avoids Aramaisms (cf. Mark 1:13/ Matt 4:2; Mark 5:41/ Matt 9:25; Mark 7:34/ Matt 15:30; Mark 7:11/ Matt 15:5).
The following assumes the priority of Mark - a position held by an overwhelming majority of New Testament Biblical Critics, and also argued for by Schnelle himself.

We can add to Schnelle's list here Mark 9:5/ Matt 17:4 (use of "Rabbi") and Mark 14:36/ Matt 26:39 (use of "Abba").

In fact the only Aramaism I can think of that Matthew retains from Mark is the cry from the cross Mark 15:34/ Matt 27:46. Matthew does also retain the hebraism "hosanna" from Mark (21:9), however I suspect that this has become liturgical, for "hosanna" doesn't exist in this form in hebrew biblical texts that we have. Otherwise Matthew seems to have systematically stripped Mark of its Aramaisms, which is quite striking.

Is this a sign of Matthew's lack of jewish perspective? Or at least lack of semitic jewish perspective? After all he could have followed some kind of hellenistic judaism. At very least he seems not to have considered Jesus' original language very important, or perhaps have had something against it, considering the extent of the expunction. I think this latter stance would go against him Matthew being a hellenistic Jew, but I guess it is a matter of judgement.

f) The Matthean community understands its life to be at some distance from that of the synagogue (cf. Matt 23:34b ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς ὑμῶν [in your synagogues]; Matt 7:29b καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶω [and not as their scribes]).
The first of these passages is part of a long condemnation of scribes and pharisees and so could, in theory, be a castigation limited to those groups. However, the use of "your synagogues" does seem to widen this out which, in addition to its adoption of a "them and us" attitude, does lend a certain force to an argument against Matthew's jewishness.

The second of Schnelle's passages come at the end of the sermon on the mount already mentioned above. As the criticism is of the scribes, following arguments I've outlined above, I find Schnelle's argument has less force here.

g) Ritual prescriptions for the Sabbath have lost their significance (cf. Matt 12:1-8).
Hmm. This argument cuts both ways. Matthew has taken over the pericope in Mark 2:23-28 and reworked it. So this raises the question, is Matthew's redaction any less jewish than Mark's original?

There is a lot of ink spilled over the Markan text, particularly as regards the "son of man" expression. But we'll come to that.

I think the first thing to notice is how Matthew corrects Mark's error about Abiathar. Matthew just discreetly drops reference to the high priest at David's time, and thus gets his text back in line with the Hebrew bible. This really is an argument for Matthew's familiarity with Hebrew scriptures, although it would work just the same for familiarity with them in Greek translation; however I'm sure that Mark Goodacre would see this as bolstering his argument in part.

Nevertheless, immediately Matthew detracts from this sense of familiarity with the scriptures by adding to Mark's version with (Matt 12:5):
ἢ οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε ἐν τῷ νόμῳ ὅτι τοῖς σάββασιν οἱ ἱερεῖς ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ τὸ σάββατον βεβηλοῦσιν καὶ ἀναίτιοί εἰσιν;
Or have you not read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and they are innocent?
This is one of those passages which makes people read around to find out what on earth Matthew was talking about! The best people can find for a fit for this quotation/allusion is Numbers 28:9-10, which is hardly convincing.

So to the "son of man" expression at the end of the parallel passages. This is something of a can of worms which I am very reluctant to open. Really the "son of man" topic needs a series of posts itself, if not rather more. There is an enormous amount of disagreement about its usage in the gospels.

Nevertheless, perhaps I can restrict myself to saying that Mark's treatment of the "son of man", with its twofold stages to the argument (Mark 2:27-28) seems much more coherent than Matthew's citation of just the latter part (Matt 12:8). The Markan argument is a good one in that it fits the context, it possibly uses Aramaic elements of the expression (cf. practically anything written by Maurice Casey!) and almost undoubtedly portrays Hebrew parallelism. Matthew has lost a very jewish feeling of this argument in his partial citation. It seems that he really didn't understand the argument that Mark's Jesus was making.

h) The rejection of Israel, i.e. that Israel has lost its distinct place in the history of salvation, has been accepted by Matthew as reality for some time (cf. Matt 21:43; 22:9; 8:11-12; 21:39ff; 27:25; 28:15)
I basically agree with this point of Schnelle's although I do think he double counts - Matt 21:43 is the explanation of the parable in 21:39ff, so really ought to count as one. Matt 28:15 is remarkable, not just for the sentiment expressed here, but also for the "them and us" approach:
Καὶ διεφημίσθη ὁ λόγος οὗτος παρὰ Ἰουδαίοις μέχρι τῆς σήμερον.
And this story was spread widely amongst jews [even] until today. 
Could Matthew really have considered himself amongst these jews? I guess it depends on how you look at this text.

Well there you have Schnelle's "against" list - that is against Matthew having been jewish. Just as with the "for" list, I've agreed with some and diminished others.

But he has missed a common additional argument in his "against" list. This one deserves a post of its own; so I'll save it for later, along with some attempt to make sense of the contrary data.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Was the Author of Matthew's Gospel Jewish?

Here's a short break from my Goliath series, which I'll resume some time later.

In one of my posts critiquing Mark Goodacre's critique of Francesca Stavrakopoulou, I mentioned that there is a significant amount of debate about whether the author of Matthew's Gospel was Jewish or not, and if he was, then what kind of Jew he was. This may have taken some people by surprise; I think most readers of the New Testament take it as a "result" that Matthew was written by a Jew, just as people generally take Luke to have been a Gentile. Much like so many areas of scholarly biblical criticism, the work of the experts has failed to get out there to people in the streets or pews.

So I thought it would be worth taking a look at the question - not that this blog's readership levels will do much to redress society's unfamiliarity with the issue!

Why did people originally think Matthew was written by a Jew rather than a Gentile?
First a note to say I'll be following the established convention of calling the author of the Gospel of Matthew - "Matthew". Please do not take this as any indication that I think the author was any individual Matthew, nor even that the actual author happened to be named Matthew; here it's just shorthand for indicating the author of the Gospel concerned. And whilst I'm giving disclaimers, perhaps I should also mention that just because I refer to the "author" of this Gospel in the singular, that should also not be taken to mean that everything in the Gospel of Matthew was written by just one person; on the contrary the author undoubtedly used sources and there may be elements of later redaction present in texts of the Gospel found today.

Returning to the question of this section, of course this Gospel was, from early on, not just attributed to any Jew, but to the disciple of Jesus  Μαθθαῖος ὁ τελώνης (Matt 9:9; 10:3). Indeed given this attribution, the jewishness of the Gospel would be pretty much guaranteed; surely Jesus' disciples were Jewish themselves, just like Jesus himself. And if such an early disciple had written the Gospel, then the Gospel itself must be very early, thus not allowing time for any great split between the new religion and Judaism of Jesus' day.

That's all very well as far as it goes. The problem is that no biblical scholar these days thinks that the Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew the tax-collecting-disciple mentioned in the Gospel. Of course many evangelical fundamentalists do still hold to this position, but even amongst them there are some who don't - after all the Gospel doesn't actually say this, so some have been able to break free from this doctrine.

But there's another reason why, early on, people thought Matthew's Gospel was particularly jewish - it was thought that it had originally been written in either Hebrew or Aramaic before being translated into Greek. Being written in a semitic language, it was argued, betrayed its semitic (and therefore jewish!) origins. In this respect a quotation is often given from Papias, which, strictly speaking, is a quotation of a quotation - we only know of this quotation via Eusebius writing in his Ecclesiastical History (3:39:16):
Ματθαῖος μὲν οὖν Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο, ἡρμήνευσεν δ᾽ αὐτὰ ὡς ἦν δυνατὸς ἕκαστος
So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.
This is a passage which is cited to support numerous arguments in modern day biblical criticism, but is only a snippet about Matthew (or even about a Matthew) amongst argumentation in Eusebius' text about Mark. Needless to say, biblical scholars are agreed that the Gospel we know as Matthew Gospel (which may or may not be what Eusebius/Papias were talking about here) was not written in a semitic language, but was written right from the outset in Greek.

So these two arguments for the Gospel of Matthew's jewishness come to nought. Of course that doesn't mean that the Gospel isn't jewish, it's just that we have not yet established that it is.

But how could you tell if a document were written by a Jew or, more particularly, by a devout Jew? To do that, really you need to get to grips with the content of the Gospel. And that is what I was saying in my previous post that Udo Schnelle had helpfully done by way of "for and against lists" in his The New Testament Writings (translated from the German Einleitung in das Neue Testament).

I thought it would be helpful to go through these lists here, and see if that gets us any further in understanding the debate.

Arguments for Intrinsic Jewishness in Matthew's Gospel
I'll use Schnelle's points as subheadings:

a) The fundamental affirmation of the Law (cf. Matt 5:17-20; 23:3a, 23b).
The first of these passages seems quite forceful, and is often quoted in many contexts. So it's well worth taking a close look.
17 Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας· οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι.  18 ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν· ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται.  19 ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ μίαν τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων καὶ διδάξῃ οὕτως τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ἐλάχιστος κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν· ὃς δ᾿ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν.

20 Λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑμῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.

17 Do not consider that I [Jesus] have come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you until the heaven and the earth pass away, not one iota nor one serif will pass away from the Law until everything comes about. 19 Whoever, then, looses one of the least of these commandments and teaches people thus, he will be called least in the kingdom of the heavens, but whoever does and teaches [them], he will be called great in the kingdom of the heavens.
20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.
This at first sounds very strong stuff indeed - a robust defense of the Torah and Prophets. However, as Maurice Casey points out in his Jesus of Nazareth (pp. 91-2, albeit making an argument for an early date of Matthew's gospel which fails to convince), verse 19 is not really as strong as people often claim. After all, for this verse everyone gets to the kingdom of the heavens regardless of their attitude to the Law; just some of them will be called "least" - hardly fire and brimstone stuff! Yes, in verse 20 one's righteousness has to be better than the Scribes and Pharisees, but this is more a condemnation of them than anyone else.

Undoubtedly the Law (and the Prophets - oh am I sorely tempted to comment on this formula - but one thing at a time!) is important for Matthew, but from here it is not the deciding factor for humanity or religion.

b) The sustained reference to the Old Testament and emphatic application of the idea of fulfillment (cf. e.g. Matt 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18; 3:3; 4:4-16; 8:17 and others).

These are generally the fulfillment passages, one of which we dealt with at length in a previous post. They clearly are a "feature" of Matthew's Gospel, and must surely be taken to indicate that either Matthew thought he could make good arguments from fulfillments of jewish scripture or he thought this would be important to his readers.

There are a couple of interesting points to note, however. Firstly, Matthew often quotes from the Greek translations of scriptures available to him, to the extent that, as we have already seen, the very point he makes about a "virgin" can only be maintained from the Greek translation of his time, not the Hebrew.  Ulrich Luz in A Commentary on Matthew (Hermeneia series) concludes that "Matthew's bible was the LXX [Septuagint]" (vol. 1, p. 128).

Secondly, as Mark Goodacre points out in his podcast that I criticized, one of the fulfillment "quotations" (strangely omitted from Schnelle's list here) references a passage that is simply not found in any scriptural literature found today, nor any that were known to early Christians who wrote about it. Matt 2:23 has:
καὶ ἐλθὼν κατῴκησεν εἰς πόλιν λεγομένην Ναζαρέτ· ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν ὅτι Ναζωραῖος κληθήσεται. And he came to reside in a city named Nazareth in order that it would be fulfilled that which was spoken through the Prophets, "He will be called a Nazarene"
There have been many attempts to identify such a "scripture" with no convincing success. So the question arises what purpose does this particular fulfillment passage serve? The author seems more concerned with the idea of "fulfillment" than accuracy about what jewish scriptures actually say.

A further error of the author is in Matthew 13:35 where the author incorrectly attributes a quotation of the Psalms (78:2) to the Prophets, or indeed, in some early manuscripts, even to the Prophet Isaiah.

These points serve to reduce suggestions of the author's familiarity with jewish scriptures both in Greek and Hebrew, but it seems he was even less familiar with scriptural sources in Hebrew than he was those in Greek.

c) The fundamental limitation of Jesus' mission to Israel (cf. Matt 10:5-6; 15:24).

These two passages seem rather undone by other passages concerning the mission to the Gentiles that will be considered in the "against" list, and I'll have more comment there. However, for the moment here's a suggestion about these two passages. I liken them to a sort of Matthean "Messianic Secret à la Wrede"; that is, they seem to me to be more of an explanation for readers that the new religion started out amongst Jews even though it was Jesus' intent all along for everyone to hear the message. Their aim might have been apologetic in this way, and if I'm right then they could equally have been written by a Jew or a Gentile.
d) The Matthean community still keeps the Sabbath (cf. Matt 24:20).

I actually think Schnelle understates this point. It's not just that the Matthean community observes the Sabbath, but also the author expresses concern for all those who keep the Sabbath, thus going beyond Matthew's own community. Matthew here, it seems to me, shows quite a link to Jews of his day.
e) The Matthean community still lives within the jurisdiction of Judaism (cf. Matt 17: 24-27; 23: 1-3).

The first of these passages probably deserve a whole post to itself, if not more. It is an extraordinary passage in terms of its form. It starts off seemingly as a controversy story but at its end it announces a miracle without actually recounting the event.
24 Ἐλθόντων δὲ αὐτῶν εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ προσῆλθον οἱ τὰ δίδραχμα λαμβάνοντες τῷ Πέτρῳ καὶ εἶπαν· ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν οὐ τελεῖ [τὰ] δίδραχμα;  25 λέγει· ναί. καὶ ἐλθόντα εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν προέφθασεν αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων· τί σοι δοκεῖ, Σίμων; οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς ἀπὸ τίνων λαμβάνουσιν τέλη ἢ κῆνσον; ἀπὸ τῶν υἱῶν αὐτῶν ἢ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων;  26 εἰπόντος δέ· ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων, ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἄρα γε ἐλεύθεροί εἰσιν οἱ υἱοί.  27 ἵνα δὲ μὴ σκανδαλίσωμεν αὐτούς, πορευθεὶς εἰς θάλασσαν βάλε ἄγκιστρον καὶ τὸν ἀναβάντα πρῶτον ἰχθὺν ἆρον, καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ εὑρήσεις στατῆρα· ἐκεῖνον λαβὼν δὸς αὐτοῖς ἀντὶ ἐμοῦ καὶ σοῦ.

24 When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma-coin came to Peter and said, "Your [pl] teacher pays the two-drachma-coin, doesn't he?" 25 He said, "Yes." And coming to the house, Jesus anticipated him saying, "What does it seem to you, Simon? The kings of the earth, from whom do they receive their tolls and taxes? From their children or from foreigners? 26 And he said, "From foreigners." Jesus said to him, "Well then, children are free. 27 But so that we don't shock them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up; having opened its mouth you will find a stater-coin; taking that, give it to them for me and you."

This passage reflects a pre-70 CE situation, which was modified for Matthew's post-70 CE timeframe. This temple tax was replaced by the fiscus Iudaicus following the destruction of the temple. One interesting thing is the brief but overwhelmingly positive "yes" that Peter gives to this tax, compared with the rather more reticent we-shouldn't-have-to-pay-it-because-we're-not-foreigners-but-I'll-pay-it-through-a-miracle approach of Jesus. Many have seen some considerable redactional activity here. Nonetheless, most maintain that Matthew received a pre-70 CE oral tradition here, and may have redacted it further.

Whatever the case, it is very striking that Matthew includes this passage. Does it refer to a principle that Matthew sees as applying in his community? Well it's hard to say. Nonetheless, it is clear that Matthew is including something here which would strike a chord more with Jews than Gentiles.

The other passage Schnelle cites for this part, Matt 23:1-3, is less interesting being a further example of condemnation of Scribes and Pharisees, with a warning about hypocrisy.

f) The Moses typology in Matt 2:13ff; 4:1-2; 5:1 and the five great discourses in the gospel present Jesus as having an affinity to Moses.

I can't disagree that in Matthew's Gospel the hero Jesus is frequently given a Moses typology; however this is not unique to Matthew. Indeed in Luke-Acts, which is generally considered much more gentile (and written for a gentile audience), Jesus also receives a Moses typology, perhaps more so in Acts than in the Gospel of Luke.

Take Stephen's speech in Acts 7. His whole speech says an awful lot about Moses, which is all transferred to Jesus in verse 37. It would be hard to interpret the speech without acknowledging that it considers jewish scriptural history to be extremely important, yet this is in a book written supposedly by a Gentile for Gentiles.

So does the Moses typology in Matthew count any differently?
g) The language, structure, reception of the Scripture, argumentation and history of the influence of the Gospel of Matthew point to a Jewish Christian as its author.

It's a bit difficult to address such generalizations, so I won't attempt to do so.

Well, although I've argued to diminish some points, and supported others, it remains an impressive list from Schnelle. So what could possibly be said in the "against" list? I'll leave that for my next post.