For those of you who read comments what follows will be familiar. I’ve been chatting back-and-forth with someone named John Loftus, who is an atheist and has a blog called debunking Christianity. One of the issues upon which John focused was what he perceives as either deliberate or inept use of the Old Testament by New Testament writers when it comes to “messianic prophecy.” In briefest terms, his contention was that the interpretations that NT writers give to OT passages are contrived or just plain wrong; that is, we’d never come up with their interpretations using modern interpretive methods (the “grammatical historical” method). I actually agree in many instances, but I think judging the NT authors in this way is pointless and misguided. That said, in my view evangelicals tend to assume the same sorts of things John does about how messianic prophecy “worked.” That those assumptions are misguided is why some of the “fulfillment” NT writers come up with look so strained and, in some cases, sucked out of their thumbs. At the urging of several readers to do so, I’ll share my thoughts as to what I mean.
So what do I mean about the common way of parsing messianic prophecy being misguided? Well, let me first explain what I see as common. It seems to me that the vast majority of lay people and pastors make one or more of the assumptions below. (And between us, a lot of scholars do as well).
1. A New Testament messianic “fulfillment” that references an OT passage does so because the OT passage quoted was intended as messianic.
2. That NT messianic “fulfillment” have a literal 1:1 connection with an OT passage. That is, the statement we read in the NT must have a near identical counterpart statement in the OT passage.
3. That, when the above two items don’t seem to work, it’s okay to say the NT writer was inspired to change the OT meaning.
4. If # 3 is uncomfortable, then the NT messianic application of an OT prophecy that doesn’t really jive with the OT meaning (without basically mangling the latter or making it stand on its head) must be an instance of “multiple fulfillment” or a warm-up fulfillment to the “real” fulfillment coming down the line.
As a test example for all of these, consider Matthew 2:13-15 –
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him. 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, Out of Egypt I called my son.
In verse 15, Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
This interaction doesn’t conform at all to #1 above. Hosea 11:1 isn’t even a prophecy – it’s looking BACKWARD into Israel’s history at the exodus, where God’s son (the nation of Israel – cf. Exod 4:22) left Egypt. It has nothing to do (on any face-value reading) with the coming messiah. While it is a direct quotation (see #2 in my list), the fact that there is no messianic telegraphing (or even future perspective) in Hosea makes the directness of the quotation little comfort. The fact that Hosea 11:1 looks backward and not forward also rules out # 4 in my list. It simply isn’t forward-looking. Option # 3 is all that’s left, and that is where Mr. Loftus has you by your hermeneutic and will make you pay. He would charge the NT writer with sucking the interpretation out of his thumb, violating the original text and its intent in the process. This about the place where most will appeal to mystery and say God could put any new thought into the head of the writer whether it conformed to the original intent or not. If I were John Loftus and you did that, I’d tell you that you have just forfeited your right to ever talk to me about interpreting the Bible in context or its original intent again. Worse, I’d ask you why God couldn’t see the future clearly enough to NOT have to supply the NT writer with something new down the line. I thought he was omniscient!
Hope you get the picture and appreciate the problem. But then again, I don’t see a problem since I don’t assume any of the assumptions listed above. I think messianic prophecy operates in an entirely different way (yeah, I know; you’re not surprised).
So what’s going on?
First, I don’t believe the Jews of the 2nd temple period and first century (the NT era) were working from a grocery list of OT passages for which they planned to check off “fulfillments” when it came to the messiah. Frankly, “messiah” (mashiach) is not a common word. Here are the search results for the term. You’ll notice a few things right away: (1) some of the most important messianic “prophecies” don’t even contain the word (e.g., Isa 7:14; Isa 53); (2) there are only two passages that even get used by NT authors as though they were prophetic statements about messiah (Psa 2:2 – referenced in Acts 4:25-26; Rev 19:19; Psa 89:51 – a faint allusion in 1 Pet 4:14). Pretty slim pickings.
What this tells us (or should — and I include Mr. Loftus here) is that since the data inform us that the NT writers did not even have a list to go by, then must have been thinking about messiah in a different way. They weren’t thinking “the messiah will say or do XYZ when he gets here because I have these verses that tell me what he’ll say and do.” From two verses? Come on. Consequently, my response to John Loftus was that he is wrong to criticize the methods of the NT writers. They can’t be abusing a method that they never intended to use (his – and our – grammatical historical approach). That’s like criticizing your dog for not being a cat. Pointless. But understandable nonetheless. You basically have to say you know better than they did (in which case you have forfeited the coherence of the claim that you are evaluating them in context — in favor of doing so out of context).
Second, my view is that Second Temple / first century Jews instead had what I’d call a “mental mosaic” of what messiah would be like and do, rather than a checklist of verses for him to “fulfill.” Rather than asking themselves, “does this guy fulfill all these passages / prophecies?” they were asking “does this guy fit the profile?” The profile of which I speak was a mosaic of motifs and symbols that arise from the OT and its ancient Near Eastern culture (i.e., the OT in its own context). For the Israelite and later Jew, the mental mosaic had many pieces – i.e., motifs and symbols concerning kingship, priesthood, shepherding, sonship, servanthood, divinity, warfare, etc. All of these converged into a picture, and the pieces came from items (a word or phrase, literal or symbolic or both) in a wide network of passages. When the NT writer wrote about Jesus the question often was not “Are we sure Jesus did and said that line in XYZ text?” but “do I see messiah when I watch and listen to him?” Does he fit the profile?
Let’s apply this to Hosea 11:1 – “out of Egypt I called my son.” Why would Matthew take this as messianic — and what does he mean by “fulfilled”?
Well, Matthew would have to be an inept reader to think that Hosea 11:1 looked forward. He wasn’t a doofus, so he wasn’t looking at it that way. But he knew the profile. Here are some obvious mosaic pieces that Matthew would have known (they are transparent from the text):
1. Messiah would be a descendant of David, who was a descendant of Abraham.
2. Descendants of Abraham were Israelites.
3. Israelites were referred to as God’s son (corporately) in the OT.
4. Israel was in bondage in Egypt.
5. God delivered Israel from Egypt.
All of this very obvious information was floating around in Matthew’s head when one day (we don’t know how, but I’m betting Mary told the story often enough) he heard about Jesus, whom he believed the [individual] son of God, had to flee to Egypt until God told his parents in a dream to bring him out of Egypt and back to Judea. And so the lights went on in Matthew’s head; he saw an amazing analogy. He decided it was one that was worth recording. It’s safe to say he believed God brought to his attention and that God had ordered the events of Jesus’ life in such as way as to have the analogy exist for him to see. That’s why he’d use a word like “fulfilled” – but not in the 1:1 correspondence way we imagine it needing to work.
Now, when you look at that, we have to admit it isn’t rocket science. There’s nothing that isn’t readily apparent. But we also have to admit we have the benefit of hindsight. I don’t want readers to get the impression that the Holy Spirit / God had nothing to do with the NT authors seeing how Jesus fit the profile. But a lot of it isn’t that hard to see unless you’re locked in to one way of thinking about prophecy and fulfillment. I think the tougher task for the disciples and NT writers was knowing the text so well that the mosaic became discernible. They weren’t scholars (except for Paul). They had to learn and think and connect the dots / match the profile. That took time. I think we can all identify.
By the way, it isn’t just messianic prophecy that works this way, either. This is how to look at many things with respect to biblical theology. I refer you to the third bullet point on Heiser’s laws for Bible Study: “Patterns in the text are more important than word studies.”
Excellent !… this shall be bookmarked and referenced many times.
And that goes a long way to explaining all the various ways in which the Epistle of Barnabas sees Christ foreshadowed in the OT.
thanks – if you have anything handy on that, I’ll post it.
Patterns, Mosaic, Tapestries – all boil down to recognizing the thumbprint of God. The more important question arising out of this is how it relates to eschatology.
If the pattern is more important than the proof-text (I agree that it is) than ought we not ask ourselves what does the PATTERN say about eschatology?
This is totally an ‘aside’ but as to thumbprint: I’m quite fond of the writings etc of Gerald Schroeder, especially re: the intersection of Physics/Faith/Torah. He points out in passing, in one of his books, the curiosity that the flattish spiral shape with the radius-arms is a shape repeated over and over in the Universe, from the sub-atomic to the superstellar, i.e. http://sci.esa.int/science-e-media/img/db/Spiral%20Galaxy.jpg
Hello Michael (Dr. Heiser),
I think you’re on a really good track. IMO this whole area needs some attention. I think current developments in theological hermeneutics are slowly moving in a direction which would be more willing to accept this kind of treatment.
I can’t really fault Mr. Loftus for his analysis, I had many of the same questions for years (and still have some) but was willing to accept things based on other reasons. But, nonetheless, I think it good to remove this intellectual stumbling block if possible. The root of the problem is the hermeneutic of our generation which is highly influenced by modernism.
Were you at the Bible-Tech conference in March? I made a presentation there about the Orthotomeo Project. It may of interest to you.
P.S.: Is not Micah 5:2 and John 7:40ff. an example of a concrete prophecy-fulfillment, indicating that the Jews at least in some instances had a kind of checklist mentality regarding the Messiah?
Andy (and use Mike) – I was not at Bible Tech, but will look at the link.
In regard to Micah 5:2, it’s not that specific. Notice that it doesn’t actually say that the one associated with Bethlehem would be born there — there is just some association with that city. For sure a birth establishes an association, but Micah 5:2 would still be applicable to messiah if he had not been born there, but had some other link (e.g., it didn’t rule out Zerubbabel from consideration in the exile). “Coming from” Bethlehem could involve a range of possibilities. It also refers only to “a king” (what good king didn’t rule Israel on God’s behalf)? By the time of the NT (and certainly earlier) it was applied to messiah – why? Because one part of the mosaic was kingship.
Generally, what are you up to now? I supposed I will find out on your website!
wow – I had a student who was named Andy Potter, but you’re not him (hence my last question about what you are up to). Amazing.
Alfred Edersheim saw Christ’s baptism by John as a foreshadowing of the authentic Israel of God in the greater Exodus crossing the chaotic waters as and for His Israel.
He saw Christ as “the Israel of God” via some of Isaiah’s suffering servant passages.
Matthew could have concluded “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” could properly be associated with Jesus of Nazareth.
He learns of Jesus exiting Egypt as a child as even the backward look of the noted verse still saw the “type” of the later greater ante type reality fulfilled by “My Son, Israel”.
Prophesy or not, it sure resonates with me that Matthew got it right.
Christopher J.H Wright’s book ” Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament” is a good source for this type of “patterning” and “theme development”.
agreed – a good intro to such things.
I may get the left foot of fellowship for this, but MSH I wish you would comment on the Language implications of this. The semitic arabs have resisted ‘hellenization’ for a very long time and show no signs of caving. when I HEAR these voices reciting the Koran it tells me a lot… very challenging to me/we: http://www.theworld.org/2011/07/koran-by-heart/
I really don’t know what you’re angling for / at here.
Really excellent post. Very well argued.
I don’t know Greek, but I’ve been told that the word for “fulfill” in Matthew 2 and elsewhere (pleroo) has a much broader range of meaning than simple one-for-one realization of predictions. Supposedly it’s ground-level meaning is “to fill up”. If this is true, then it would definitely make sense for Matthew, seeing Jesus’ early life following the pattern of Israel’s wanderings, to understand this pattern through the lens of Jesus’ messiahship as a representative pattern, in other words as a point of identification between Jesus as Israel’s king and the nation’s long checkered history. This theme continues, of course, with the baptism in the next chapter, where Jesus’ symbolic actions echo the Exodus, and then in the chapter after that with the sermon on the mount evoking Sinai. Through all of this the point of this post is confirmed: Matthew’s intention is less to say that Jesus’ leaving Egypt was the “fulfillment” of Hosea 11:1 in the sense of “completion” or “realization” as much as it is to say that Jesus has given Israel’s history a new depth of meaning, he has “filled it up”, through his identification with them as their Messiah. In other words, Matthew’s characteristic use of pleroo reflects his keen eye for scriptural typology, as he wants to connect the story of Jesus as deeply as possible to the story of Israel.
I think this also helps explain why we don’t see any OT passages cited in all of those NT texts that declare the Messiah had to suffer, die, and rise again “according to the Scriptures” or “so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled”. The reason is because the authors aren’t thinking like post-Enlightnment literalists looking for individual “proof-texts” on which to rest their case. Rather, like first century Jews living within a story (a story about a fall and a promise, and then about exile and deliverance) they looked to their Scriptures collectively as the true and authoritative metanarrative (answering the big questions like “who are we?”, “what’s wrong?” and “what’s the solution?”) over against all the other narratives on offer in the world.
And contrary to what the majority of the nation of Israel believed about that story in the first century (and therefore what they expected for its climax, its “fulfillment”), the pattern of that story had always been about suffering and glory, about death and resurrection. These few paragraphs from N.T. Wright really helped me on this point:
Israel’s sufferings increased in Egypt to the bleeding point, and then the redemption occured. Isarel cried to the Lord in her suffering, and he raised up judges to deliver her. The Assyrians swept through Jerusalem; they were routed by YHWH himself when they were on the point of taking the city. When Israel is cast down, walking about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy, then God will act, sending out his light and truth to lead her like the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness.
And though Babylon had succeeded where Assyria failed, to be followed by the other pagan nations climaxing now with Rome, the prophets pointed into the gloom and declared that it would be through this darkness that the redemption would come. Israel would be narrowed down to a point, a remnant, a Servant, one like a Son of Man attacked by monsters, and this little group would pass through the raging waters and not drown, through the fire and not be harmed. Somehow, strangely, the saving purpose of YHWH for Israel and through Israel for the world would be carried through the most intense suffering, to emerge the other side as exile was at last undone, as sins were at last forgiven as an act in history, as the covenant was renewed, as the kingdom of God was finally established.
This then, was after all how the story worked; this was the narrative the prophets had been elaborating. Yes, the Scriptures were indeed to be read as a narrative reaching its climax. They never were a mere collection of arbitrary or atomized proof-texts. But no, the story was never about Israel beating up her enemies and becoming established as the high-and-mighty masters of the world. It was always the story of how the creator God, Israel’s covenant God, would bring his saving purpose for the world to birth through the suffering and vindication of Israel. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” This could never be a matter of so-called “messianic” proof-texts alone. It was the entire narrative, the complete story-line, the whole world of prayer and hope, focused on Isarel as the bearer of God’s promise for the world, then focused on a remnant as the bearer of Israel’s destiny, and focused finally on Israel’s true king as the one upon whom the task even of the remnant would finally devolve. He had been the servant for the servant-people. He had done for Israel and the world what Israel and the world could not do for themselves. (N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, pp. 161-162)
nice (post length!) comment. Really liked the last paragraph.
I could never do twitter…
My preacher has been saying this for a few years now. Pleroo = fills full as much as fulfilled.
Christ did way more than fulfill a passage, he added to many.
An easy example he gives is , “If you even lust for a woman you have committed adultery”.
He heightened the legal codex, then fulfilled THAT as well as the lesser demands.
Filled full sure does fit with this specific “problem” of hermeneutics.
This was right on time for me as I am teaching a Sunday school class on Ephesians 4 this week. In verse 8, Paul quotes Psalm 68 as, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he GAVE gifts to men.” but the Hebrew text reads, “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and RECEIVING gifts among men,”
Receiving and giving are obviously opposites, so Paul was taking great liberty with the text which creates a bit of problem if you are looking for a 1 to 1 correspondence.
I think your information in this post is quite helpful in understanding this issue. The article by Roger Nicole that you assigned in OBST592 is helpful as well.
“Not all the passages quoted in the New Testament are necessarily to be considered as definite prophecies, but many are cited as simply characterizing in a striking way the New Testament situation. At times the New Testament writers may have simply used Old Testament language without intending to imply that there is a distinct relationship of prophecy to fulfillment, or of antitype to type.”
It seems to me that this reference was clearly about King David ascending up Mt Zion after a battle victory and Paul is drawing a very general parallel. Any thoughts on this example?
At the risk of disagreeing and throwing mud on the person who I was named after – the author of the Gospel of Matthew (whoever he was) appears to have been every Hebrew teacher’s worst nightmare. I don’t think “inept” and “doofus” would be bad labels when assessing his grasp of the Hebrew of the Tankah, as opposed to what appears to be the Septuagint he was more familiar with.
Elementary mistakes when dealing with poetic parallelism (note the number of animals he assigns to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry – which his fellow gospel writers thankfully don’t multiply),
Playing Hide-and-Seek “Annointed One” references in the Tanakh where they had never been,
As 2000 years of unfortunate Jewish-Christian relations have shown, the Gospel of Matthew’s attempt at conversion was not as successful as the author would have hoped – and trying to reason through two or three layers of translation (Hebrew Tanakh to Greek Septuagint to New Testament Greek) doesn’t seem to have been a good idea: claiming that the Holy Spirit would have made sure he did it right seems to run contrary to the evidence. Other writers pulled it off much better – whether on their own or divine merits.
Whether the New Testament writers were using modern hermeneutical methods or not – pointing out that they weren’t modern biblical scholars doesn’t remove the mistakes that some of them did make in the most basic areass of Hebrew 101. I think Loftus’ argument is being derailed in the wrong direction, and the forest is being missed for the trees.
Just my humble opinion.
you need to be more specific. If you can condense (specifically) what you see the error is in 1-2 paragraphs that would be helpful.
If you’re referring to the errors that have been raised against the author of Matthew, the multiple donkeys incident is a fairly well-known one. A modern translation (not based on the LXX) of the Hebrew poetry of Zechariah 9:9 yields this:
“Throb with abandon, fair Zion!
Let out a shout, fair Jerusalem!
Behold your king,
He will come to you;
He is just and victorious;
Lowly, mounted on an ass,
On a donkey, a foal of she-asses.”
Hebrew Parallelism can be found in several places in this verse, but for the current purpose it shows that the “ass” of line 6 is the same “donkey” as in line 7. This should be fairly obvious if one has a working basic Hebrew Poetry knowledge, or it should be to most people from experience with the Psalms. Scholars still debate whether the author of Matthew had a working knowledge of Hebrew (which would have been fairly uncommon at that time outside of ‘scholars’) and thus should be criticized for this most basic of errors, or if he relied heavily on the LXX as his inspired text of choice – like most people did – and can be forgiven his error. This also brings up the question of whether the LXX was inspired (as legend and common opinion believed), and thus the writer of Matthew is spared. Not sure what the means for his fellow writers, though. The LXX yields the following, splitting the animal into 2 beasts:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Proclaim, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King comes to you;
Just and saving is he;
Gentle and mounted on a beast of burden
And a young colt.”
It’s fairly easy to see how someone who relies on the LXX over the Hebrew would fall prey to error in seeing multiple beasts of burden in Zechariah, and then assign them to the Triumphal Entry with the strange result of:
“They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them” of the Gospel of Matthew . The other Gospel writers avoid this error and only assign one animal to the Triumphal Entry.
That’s a rather long paragraph (I’m afraid I’m not good at condensing) and it’s quite possible that the error you’re asking me to clarify is concerning the reading of Loftus’ claims. If that is the case, then Loftus appears to be making the claim that basic errors in iinterpretation on the part of the early christian and pauline writers resulted in skewed theological conclusions, which forever changed the course of history. I think it’s an error to dismiss such claims by getting lost in the difference between modern hermeneutics and ancient hermeneutics. I use the example of the author of Matthew because he is well-known to have been very fond of dragging out of the Tanakh as many Messianic allusions as he could find, or contrive and some of these were caught by his fellow Gospel-writers and avoided. There are clear-cut messianic references in the Tanakh, and then there are references that can only be called messianic by relying on the charity of others, or the authority which has been afforded the Gospel of Matthew. I think I’ve used up my paragraph quota today 🙂 Forgive me if I’ve missed the particular error you wanted me to be more specific on.
This actually isn’t a good example. There’s a pile of ambiguity here.
Your premises (I believe) are as follows:
1. Matthew used the LXX in his citation.
2. The LXX mistakenly splits the one animal of the Hebrew text into two animals (or is it two animals of different species – not clear what precisely you are focused on).
3. Therefore, when Matthew follows the LXX he adopts a mistake (of the LXX) and it winds up in his gospel.
If that is an incorrect reconstruction, let me know in a reply.
First, the Hebrew WORD does not give us the number in the Hebrew verse. It can be read semantically as either one or two animals, but one is far more natural. But the fact that you don’t recognize both possibilities leads me to ask whether you looked up the verse in Hebrew. There are two different words for a beast of burden used in Zech 9:9. The LXX translator could very easily have presumed (and been correct in doing so) that there were two animals in view *in the Hebrew*. He isn’t (to use my word) a doofus. And neither is Matthew. The point is that where you see clarity (one animal) in the English there is actually ambiguity (in the Hebrew). And if Matthew had read the Hebrew, he could certainly have seen ambiguity there as well. (If we can, he could have).
But let’s presume (with you) Matthew is using the LXX. The LXX translator, noting the ambiguity in his Hebrew text created by two different terms, made a choice and used two separate terms. Now the question becomes, how can the LXX (and so, Matthew) be read? Put another way, do two terms give us two animals or one (again, your example isn’t a good one since this ambiguity lingers).
First, I should note that in Matthew’s citation ITSELF you could have one OR two animals. Having one proceeds from the ascensive use of kai. That is, the word “kai” in Greek which most frequently means “and” can also mean “even.” And so the LXX translation could quite readily mean the following (NOTE MY CAPS):
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Proclaim, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King comes to you;
Just and saving is he;
Gentle and mounted on a beast of burden,
EVEN a young colt. (OR, “young foal”)
If this is the case, the LXX could be interpreted as having only one animal (despite the two different terms). (We’ll skip the fact that Matthew could also have been viewing a different LXX than the one you may have been looking at [i.e., a rescension — there isn’t just one LXX] and move on).
But let’s say Matthew has two animals. Are they two animals of different species? Maybe, but arguably not. The second word in LXX (“young colt” in your translation) is pwlos which, according to BDAG (I presume you have heard of that authoritative lexicon), is a “term being applied to any young animal born of its kind, from an elephant to a locust, depending on context.” And so we could have a young donkey and its mother; two of the same species. (Not sure if the species issue was important to you, but I tossed it in here).
But returning to Matthew, we see that prior to the actual quotation, Matthew is much clearer. Matt 21:2 clearly indicates two animals, and v. three sues the pronoun “them.” So I’d say Matthew has two animals. So let’s settle on two.
Now the question comes BACK to “did the LXX (and so, Matthew) misread the LXX? The answer is no, as indicated above. The Hebrew could actually be read as two animals. The LXX translator isn’t screwing up, and neither is Matthew.
But didn’t the writer of Zechariah envision the messiah riding ONCE into Jerusalem on one animal? For sure he presumed one trip and one ride. If he was thinking of two animals, he could also have been thinking of them tied together, but the messiah riding on one. We can’t psychologize him, though. But Here Matthew throws us a curve, as he has Jesus riding on both in one trip (or *so it seems*). Now we have two possible questions: (1) Is this as odd as it sounds?; (2) Are we reading Matthew correctly about the riding on two animals at once?
The oddity of what Matthew says comes from Matt 21:7 – ” They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he [JESUS] sat on *them*.” I imagine that you presume the “them” refers to the two animals. Silly Matthew! Error-prone Matthew! Sorry, but grammatically speaking (and we care about Greek grammar here), the nearest antecedent to the pronoun “them” is “garments” (not the animals). And so Jesus sitting on “them” most naturally refers (grammatically and logically) to the garments (plural). So, it may sound odd to us in English (and it seems to me that is what you are working from for all the premises), but Greek grammar adds some clarity. While we can see that the garments were put on both animals, the idea that Matthew is so stupid that he thinks Jesus had two rear ends, or hopped from one animal to the other, is not compelled by the text.
So what we have in Matthew is this: He has the disciples go out and find two animals (both donkeys, one young with its mother). Since the young one had never had a rider (Mark 11:2), it’s no surprise to have it accompanied by its mother. And both the Hebrew and LXX allow for two animals.
So, yes, you’ve missed the particular error I’m looking for. (And you are of course forgiven).
And incidentally, this answer wasn’t laced with fancy hermeneutical wrangling. It was straightforward grammar and semantics. The problem with your example and use of it is that you have confused the number of terms with the semantic ambiguity (and ignored some Greek grammar along the way).
I appreciate the clarifications on the Greek, but not the assumptions that I am limited to the English in my readings of the Hebrew. I make no claim that I know all there is to know about either language, or even that I excel in either: I’ll leave such things to the chest-beaters who wield those like a rhetorical sword when they feel it’s necesarry to shock and awe. Asking someone to limit themselves to two paragraphs will naturally result in brevity, which can easily be exploited to paint the writer as lacking in certain exegetical strengths. Not too sure I care for that method. Bear in mind that I am not making any claims to having “discovered” this very famous example – it’s well attested among scholarly literature. I think it’s a good assumption (since there’s so much of it going around) that the problem – and it IS a problem as far as Matthew’s reliability is concerned – is well enough known that it doesn’t require a detailed analysis on a blog reply.
As you said, ambiguity abounds in this instance (and in the entire field of Biblical studies, for that matter) – but not as much in the Hebrew as you would paint it. Of course one could read the Hebrew of Zechariah 9:9 as referring to two separate animals – I am well aware of this, just as the translators of the LXX were aware of it. But as you said, the more natural reading is that it is one animal – and if you polled most competent translators of Hebrew poetry on whether they would have read it as precise parallelism (as John did) or as distinct realities or different entities (as Matthew did) you would probably find scholarly consensus favoring precise parallelism. In the context of it’s surrounding lines, it’s very clear and unambiguous. If we wish to pursue the idea that it’s possible to prefer a separate entity reading, then by all means let us create two separate cities out of the beginning of the verse’s “daughter Zion” and “daughter Jerusalem” – which are clear A and B precise parallels.
It’s also possible that the A and B terms complemented each other, as in Zechariah 9:10, but this is also highly unlikely.
The LXX may have construed separate entities from this passage’s supposed relationship to and possible inspiration of Genesis 49:11 in which a similar situation arises in the poetic blessing of Judah:
“One who ties his ass to the vine,
To the stock his she-ass’s foal,
He washes his robe in wine,
His mantle in blood of grapes.”
Of course one could view separate entities, (whether it’s the donkey or the clothing) but it’s highly unlikely. Just because an alternate reading is available, doesn’t mean it should be used. If the LXX and the author of Matthew had never construed them as separate entities, this wouldn’t even be a talking point. Precise parallelism (which is a basic element of most Hebrew poetry) would win the day. It’s possible that Matthew was using rabbinic exegetical practices based on this Genesis-Zechariah ‘connection’ to arrive at his reading, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing entirely that has probably been handled in much greater detail than either of us can do.
You make good points about how Jesus rode the animal/animals – as has many other people, running the gamut from “the mother was needed to calm the colt” to “the robes were spread across the two animals in a type of platform”. I don’t think Zechariah was worried about the future king’s ability to ride a donkey, however, that had never been ridden, and was therefore in need of it’s mommy. Only by a backwards-reading from Matthew can this be extracted.
Let me amend your appraisal of my premises a little more in line with what I wrote in my previous posts:
1. Matthew used the LXX in his citation, or used available Hebrew or Aramaic texts.
2. The LXX mistakenly splits the one animal of the Hebrew text into two animals.
3. Therefore, Matthew either follows the LXX or follows the Hebrew and adopts a mistake (of the LXX) or a misinterpretation (of the Hebrew) and it winds up in his gospel.
4. This in turn influences later readings and translations of Zechariah. There are plenty of translations out there that rely on either LXX, Matthew, etc. and strive for a rejection of precise parallelism, or at most introduce an ambiguity much more severe than the original Hebrew would permit anyone who objectively reads it. Again – Hebrew Poetry 101.
Again – this has all been said before by people with much better credetionals than me, and I feel like I’m just repeating what is common and fairly non-controversial knowledge nowadays. John avoided the shenanigans, thankfully. At least we are not forced to harmonize the gospels anymore, or is that still attempted by brave individuals? Anyways, this is only one example of Matthew trying too hard to fit messianic prophecies to his version of Jesus’ messiaship.
The LXX made mistakes. The author of Matthew made mistakes. Some mistakes are understandable. Some mistakes are head-scratchers. We can leap through as many exegetical hoops as we wish to absolve these fallible men of their humanity, but once again we would be standing on the wrong side of Occham’s Razor in the opinion of most scholars, and my own. Each author had his own voice, each translation it’s own peculiarities and THAT makes perfect sense to me.
I don’t really care who has said it before; to say otherwise is to assign too much to one’s own omniscience. But go ahead. Scholars do that all the time. They are often self-assured about things they simply cannot know for sure, and then proceed to put lots of eggs in such baskets. I’m not that weak in terms of logic. Put another way, I have a firm grasp on my own lack of omniscience and don’t want to look like a fool by drawing conclusions based on the assumption of my own omniscience. Since we are not omniscient as to what the Hebrew originally intended by its wording, it is unwise (and even arrogant) in this case to presume the LXX translator made a mistake. There is simply nothing in what I wrote by way of response that can be demonstrated as not possible. It requires no miracle. Sorry, but that’s the fact. That is the honest position. I prefer being honest to grinding an axe (yes, that gets me in trouble).
You spelled Occam wrong.
I, for one, pretty well appreciated the pointing out that the LXX of Zechariah actually (probably) does preserve the Hebrew parallelism, as much as Greek can, by the fact the Greek connective also means “even”, therefore showing it is not an LXX problem, but an English translational problem. Would this mean there really is ambiguity in the passage, or is it simply a matter of ambiguity in how to translate it into English?
Additionally, it is a significant point that the Greek in Matthew would have the plural pronoun addressing the antecedent “garments” rather than the “animals”, thus having the verse read “and Jesus sat on them garments” rather than “and Jesus sat on them donkeys”. In this light, it turns Matthew into one who simply recorded an extra detail the others didn’t feel need to mention rather than him contriving something out of thin air.
thanks for the additional note!
So, two authors can’t tell a story highlighting different things? Newspapers do that every day. It’s hardly strange or problematic.
Pick up ten accounts of the 911 event and you’ll have lots of differences, too. Is there some obligation that the gospel writers had to include all the same events? Same dialogue? If that happened, you’d be complaining they plagiarized from each other.
What we have in the gospels is quite normative. It’s what happens when material isn’t plagiarized, and when each author has a specific agenda / audience in view. In other words, when they write like anyone else would write.