Essays on John the Baptist: How Matthew Recasts His Markan Source (5)

In this new six part series I present responses to essays offered in my course at UNC Charlotte on “John the Baptist.” John is the most underrated figure in Christian tradition, rarely given his due as a messiah and inaugurator of the movement Jesus himself arose from. The responses are by my student, Jeff Poplin, now a USAF Lt Colonel, fighter pilot, married with two boys. Jeff wrote them without notes in response to exams given in the course! They offer a good, concise, and rather extraordinary summary of what we covered in the course:

Matthew, in combining Q and Mark, and including his edited version of the John the Baptist materials, becomes our first synthesizer of the “two source” tradition in this regard. First, how well do these two sources fit together? Are they essentially compatible or incompatible? Second, how does Matthew skillfully edit and/or modify, either Q or Mark, to reflect his own approach and understanding of John the Baptizer? What appear to be his concerns in this regard?

Matthew incorporates the Mark and Q material without any major problems. These two sources are complementary to each other, with Q laying the foundation portrait of John through his sayings, teachings, role and Mark coming in with additional material concerning John’s life and importance to the people, building upon that foundation a more complete composite of the historical figure. For the purposes of Matthew’s objective, Mark and Q are like two interlocking pieces of a puzzle; although separate works, they come together easily and are indeed compatible/complementary to each other. Matthew does have an objective he is pushing throughout his material and it is readily apparent to even an unskilled observer. As an overall blanket statement, it could be said that Matthew “sanitizes” Mark. He is pushing the notion that Jesus must increase and John must decrease. Whenever there arises a problem in conflict with this, Matthew tends to eliminate such problems and offers explanations/clarifications in some instances, more on that in a bit.

John-the-Baptist-with-Jesus

 

Matthew generally leaves the material, as it is when nothing bothers his intentions, but opts to rewrite when a conflict arises. His utilization of the Q source (teachings) usually stay the same, however he shortens Mark (stories). However, Matthew does keep many of the same elements of Mark and Q, most notably the clothes and food, baptizing, arrest of John, and fasting are all the same. Now on to some specific examples of the differences. Matthew 3:3 is using the same basic quote as Mark attributed to Isaiah and the difference here is Matthew is only quoting Isaiah and not a combination of that and Malachi. Here he is removing the appearance of ignorance. Matthew 3:7 has John calling only the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers.” In Q, everyone is called this – clearly Matthews intention is to slam the other religious sects of Judaism (as he does later in Ch. 23). One of the major differences Matthew has is in his explanation of the baptism of Jesus by John. Chapter 3:13-17 records this event and Matthew adds his own little twists. First, he feels the need to explain why Jesus would need to be baptized (for he is without sin right?). Jesus comes saying (Mt. 3:15) “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In 3:17, the voice from heaven came making a public announcement, as opposed to the private disclosure in Mark saying, “this is my beloved Son.” Matthew 11:12-13 differs from Q (Lk. 16:16) in that Q has John bringing the new covenant and here it only has the prophets prophesizing up until him and not “since then the good news of the kingdom is preached” as in Lk. 16:16. Matthew 11:18-19 tells the reader that John came neither eating nor drinking, differing from Q (Lk. 7:31-34) where one is told what he did not come eating (bread) of drinking (wine). In Matthew 14, the death of John is shortened but has no emphasis change. Another major difference in Matthew is that in 17:9-13, he does have Jesus saying John is Elijah already come but drops the Mk. 9:13 comment “as it is written of him.” The final major difference is that he completely drops Luke 3:10-14 “maybe Q” from his writings. This is certainly an important teaching of John and one of the only solid examples of such and there exists no trace of it anywhere in Matthew. Throughout all of Matthew’s skillful edits/modifications, it would appear that his concerns are that his Lord Jesus must be set above all others, including John the Baptist. In this regard, he does not include the birth of John, he has nothing about the suffering of John, and shortens the John material to give the reader less of it as to emphasize Jesus. Matthew shortens Mark’s stories (sanitizes Mark) and keeps Q’s teachings pretty much the same. He shortens, edits, eliminates problems, and explains an conflict that would make Jesus appear less.

 

Tabor & Trible Team up at St Olaf Biblical Archaeology Society Seminar

It is not too late to join us July 19th through 25th…Full details are here.

The BAS Summer Vacation Seminar at St. Olaf is back by popular demand! This year, the tranquil campus of St. Olaf College will welcome two exciting scholars giving 20 dynamic lectures to our enthusiastic participants. Dr. Phyllis Trible of Union Theological Seminary and Dr. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, will present what promises to be one of our most unique programs yet.

The program is truly amazing. Just think–to pack so much into a week, with time to “hang out” and interact in the evenings and at meals is an opportunity not to be missed. Come have a seat with us in this beautiful setting and let’s dialogue on these important topics.

StOlaf

The program looks fantastic. I am doing “Trajectories through Earliest Christianity” and Phyllis Trible is doing “Treks through the Tanakh with Biblical Characters” as only she can do them. Here is the breakdown:

Tabor: Trajectories through Earliest Christianity
In his lecture program, Professor Tabor examines some of the most intriguing enigmas, mysteries, and controversies in early Christianity

  1. Re-humanizing the Mythological/Theological Miriam, Mother of Jesus
  2. Miriam the Magdalene: Wife, mother, Consort, or Literary Fiction?
  3. Identifying the Mysterious Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
  4. A Thoroughly Apocalyptic Jesus – Was Schweitzer Right?
  5. John the Baptizer—An Alternative Messiah in the Time of Jesus?
  6. Why the “End of the Age” Should Have Come in 70 CE
  7. Did the Apostle Paul Repudiate Judaism?
  8. The Q Source Hypothesis after 100 Years – What Can We Definitely Say?
  9. Understanding the Earliest View of the Resurrection of Jesus
  10. What Kind of a Jew was Jesus?

Trible: Treks through the Tanakh with Biblical Characters
The ten lectures will explore literary, theological, and feminist perspectives on Biblical narratives with particular attention to select characters. The characters, by lecture, include the following:

  1. God the Creator
  2. Eve
  3. Adam
  4. Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham
  5. Ishmael and Isaac
  6. Jacob
  7. Miriam
  8. Elijah and Jezebel
  9. Jonah
  10. God Wrathful and Merciful

Essays on John the Baptist: Mark our Earliest Narrative Source (4)

In this new six part series I present responses to essays offered in my course at UNC Charlotte on “John the Baptist.” John is the most underrated figure in Christian tradition, rarely given his due as a messiah and inaugurator of the movement Jesus himself arose from. The responses are by my student, Jeff Poplin, now a USAF Lt Colonel, fighter pilot, married with two boys. Jeff wrote them without notes in response to exams given in the course! They offer a good, concise, and rather extraordinary summary of what we covered in the course:

Leaving aside the Q portrait of John, what emerges in the Markan narrative regarding the figure of John the Baptizer? In other words, what does “Mark as Mark” contribute to the tradition?

Mark contains many notable additions to the Q portrait of John. This gospel was written around 70 C.E. and has the tendency not to tell the reader secrets, instead letting them figure things out for themselves. Mark 1:2-3 is crediting Isaiah with a prophecy that isn’t entirely his own. Instead, it is a combination of Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. “Behold I send my messenger before thy face who shall prepare thy way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Mark is utilizing a Qumran (pesher) style of combining texts to get his message across to the reader. He does this as an introduction to John (like Q he begins with John the Baptist). From Mark, scholars are able to add to their professional portrait of John and one of the first examples is Mark 1:6. It reads, “now John was clothed with camel’s hair and had a leather girdle around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.” Mark is describing some of the physical characteristics of John’s daily life in the wilderness of Judea. Scholars learn what he wore while “preparing the way” and what he ate (since it is already know that he neither ate nor drank) “locusts and wild honey.” As a side note, locust in Greek is akris and manna is ekris (only one letter difference) – it is possible that the Greek was translated incorrectly and John ate manna (honey wafer) instead of locusts (see the essay Did John the Baptist Eat Bugs or Pancakes?). Mark 1:9 also adds to the portrait that John in the Jordan baptized Jesus of Nazareth. After Jesus came out of the water, he saw the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, Mark 1:10-11. Here, Mark is relaying to the reader that this is more of a personal disclosure to Jesus in that only Jesus saw the spirit and the voice said, “thou art my beloved son.” Mark has Jesus in 1:14 coming onto the scene after John was arrested – almost signaling that since the main person/teacher (John) is removed from the scene, now one must come to take up the movement. Mark contains a wonderful story of John’s capture and subsequent death by the hands of King Herod. Mark 6:14 introduces the plot in that Jesus has been preaching and casting out demons and when Herod heard of it, some said, “John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead.”

Beheading Reubens

Then in Mark 6:16-29 the fate of John is told in detail – this is a very important addition to our running portrait of John the Baptist. Josephus records that Herod seized John and most likely took him to his palace/fortress Machaerus. While there, Herodias’ daughter danced seductively for Herod and in return he promised her anything, up to half of his kingdom. She asked for the head of John the Baptizer on a platter at the instruction of her mother (presumably because of his rejection of Herod and Herodias’ relationship). To stay true to his word, Herod sent a soldier to behead John and brought it in on a platter as requested. The reader is also made aware that after this had taken place, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Another interesting addition Mark makes is Mark 8:27-30. Jesus and his disciples were heading to the village of Caesarea Philippi and he asked them “who do men say that I am?” Their first answer was “John the Baptizer.” Presented here is a strong indication of the importance John had in his time that the disciples and general public would say that Jesus was John the Baptist. John had done many great things in the desert (preaching, baptizing, etc.) and when Jesus comes along doing similar actions, the people begin to think John has come back from the dead in another form. Some scholars have even suggested that John and Jesus looked similar physically. From these reports, the general public, disciples, and even King Herod feel that John the Baptist has come back from his execution and if Jesus and John did in fact look similar, it would make sense that such reports would begin to circulate. Mark 9:9-13 details a conversation between Jesus and his disciples regarding the scribes recording that Elijah must come first. Jesus says to them (Mk. 9:12) that “Elijah does come first to restore all things” and then poses a question (Mk. 9:12) “how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” He is alluding to Daniel 7:13 “I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven,” yet the Son of man is not suffering in that text. He then goes on to say in Mark 9:13, “but I tell you that Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him”(Zechariah 13:7). Jesus is clearly hinting here that John is Elijah return but as it is written of him? Scholars are not sure what this is in reference to, but there are four suffering servant hymns – Isaiah 42, 49, 50,53. Jesus may not be referring to a specific line of text, but a combination of these Isaiah hymns to form a “corporate role” so to speak for any servant of God, here John. Mark is showing the reader the importance John not only held to his disciples, but the high regard that Jesus himself held John to be. Finally in Mark 11:27-33, the chief priests, scribes, and elders confront Jesus asking “by what authority are you doing these things or who gave you this authority?” It is as if John is the benchmark test against which all things are measured and if you cannot speak to that, then Jesus will not speak to you. Mark is giving the information as he received it. He is not pushing an objective per se, it appears as though he presents the material fairly – showing the events in John’s life and portraying the events in Jesus’ life without editing either for a specific purpose. From Mark (as discussed above), scholars have learned a great deal relating to John’s clothing, his diet, disciples, and the manner in which he met his death. Also, readers are shown the importance in which John was held to his own disciples, the public at large, to Herod, and even to Jesus. From Mark, scholars are able to draw a fairly detailed and complete profile of who the historical figure of John the Baptist was.

Essays on John the Baptist: The Q Source (3)

In this new six part series I present responses to essays offered in my course at UNC Charlotte on “John the Baptist.” John is the most underrated figure in Christian tradition, rarely given his due as a messiah and inaugurator of the movement Jesus himself arose from. The responses are by my student, Jeff Poplin, now a USAF Lt Colonel, fighter pilot, married with two boys. Jeff wrote them without notes in response to exams given in the course! They offer a good, concise, and rather extraordinary summary of what we covered in the course:

Discuss the portrait (role, teachings, significance, etc.) of John the Baptizer that emerges from the Q Source (Lukan version), including the possibility that Lukan material such as 3:10-14 and 7:29-30 (and maybe even more), may well have been part of the original Q text (included by Luke but excluded by Matthew). Ask yourself: if all I knew was the John of Q, what kind of John would emerge?

The Q source is widely held to be the material common to Luke and Matthew, but not found in Mark. Scholars believe that is was a collection of the sayings of Jesus around the time of 50 C.E. Basing the discussion on the Lukan version of Q, a very distinctive portrait of John the Baptist emerges within the text. It is clear that John plays an important role from the beginning as the Q material begins with him instead of Jesus. In Luke 3:7-9 John is speaking to the multitudes, calling them a “brood of vipers,” and somewhat chastising them for not being more involved in the movement and with their own lives. This is the most solid Q example scholars have because it is word for word with Matthew in Greek. For such a document to start with John the Baptist instead of Jesus has strong implications and definitely displays the significance and importance John held to the author/people of the time. John is out in the wilderness of Judea baptizing all that come to him. Q even has John saying in Luke 3:16-17 that he baptizes people with water yet there is one greater than he who will come and baptize the multitudes with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus is considered the leading figure of Christianity, well it was based on him, but nevertheless John is considered one of the major players in the movement and considered significant by the author of Q.

Brueghel JtB

 

In Luke 7:18-23, one finds John sending two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he is “he who is to come or shall we look for another?” Jesus heals a few people and then sends John’s disciples back to tell “John what you have seen and heard.” To begin with, John is on the scene before Jesus ever arrives into the picture plus John has his own disciples. He is an important leader of a community of followers in the wilderness, preparing the way of YHVH, and is doing so with his own set of followers independent of Jesus. By Luke 7:24-26 one sees the importance John holds in a question Jesus asks to the crowds about John. This is the main statement scholars have regarding John the Baptist. Jesus spoke to the crowds concerning John asking, “what did you go out into the wilderness to behold?” From this simple question, there are three answers offered; a reed shaken in the wind, a man clothed in soft raiment, and a prophet. After two failures, the people give the answer Jesus was looking for in their third response. “A prophet, yes, I tell you, and more that a prophet.”

Being a prophet is the highest rank one can obtain in Judaism, so for Jesus to say John is more than a prophet has strong implications as to his status within the religious community. It shows that even Jesus is of the opinion that John is someone special, doing what the LORD has commanded him to do, and that the people should listen to and heed his words carefully for he is “more than a prophet.” Adding to this is Jesus’ statement in Luke 7:27 where he is referring to John as the one spoken about in Malachi 3, saying this is he (John) of whom it is written, “behold I send my messenger before thy face who shall prepare thy way before thee.” Luke 7:28 contains one of the most important statements about John spoken by Jesus. “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater that John.” This simple statement adds considerably to the portrait of John in the Q source. Here is Jesus, considered to be the son of man, speaking of John as the greatest of all those born of women. Being born from Mary, this puts Jesus into that group as well.

The Q source also adds to John’s profile by explaining what not eating and drinking mean. In Luke 7:31-34, it states that John has come eating no bread and drinking no wine. This shows the reader that John was a vegetarian and abstained from wine, unlike the Son of man and others who are considered gluttons and wine bibbers. Also an important addition to the role John plays is Luke 16:16 where it reads “the law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently.” Here is an excellent verse showing the status John was afforded. Reading this, one notices that it is John who has brought a new covenant to the land of Israel and not Jesus. In addition, Luke 11:2-4 has Jesus’ disciples coming up to him asking to be taught the prayer John taught his own disciples. Here we have Jesus’ own disciples asking him not for his own prayer, but the one John taught his disciples and Jesus begins “when you pray, say…” Preserved here is quite possibly the very prayer John taught his disciples and it is of such importance that the disciples of Jesus wish to learn it too. There are a handful of teachings throughout Luke that are attributed to Jesus but are without any context. Scholars have suggested that these could very well be the original teachings of the Baptist. Some of these teachings are like blessed are the poor (6:20), be merciful (6:32), a blind man can not lead the blind (6:39), do not be anxious about your life (12:22), and no servant can serve two masters (16:13). It can and has been argued that these could have come from John. He and Jesus have geographic connections – Wadi el Yabis and the Jordan River. Family wise their mothers are related, both baptize, and both have disciples. Both carry very thematic teachings like care for the poor, repent and baptize, accept sinners, and the coming kingdom. It could be that these were the original teachings of John and are attributed to Jesus because he picked them up when he picked up the Baptist movement when John was arrested and imprisoned by Herod. Luke 3:10-14 is what scholars label as “maybe Q” – at least entertained as being a possible part of Q but not exactly fitting the definition. It is the only major teaching of John scholars can ascribe to him without doubt. This teaching contains many of the same themes as the various other teachings as stated above, attributed to Jesus but without any context. Here one can see John is telling the people if “you have two costs, give one away,” that sinners (tax collectors) are welcome in the kingdom also, and not to take money under false pretenses. Luke 7:29-30 is also with the “maybe Q” group of texts. Although set in parenthesizes, these too sound familiar to 3:10-14 above in that sinners (tax collectors) are accepted because they had been baptized by John and that the Pharisees and the lawyers had rejected God’s purpose since they rejected the baptism of John. Given such evidence, one can draw the conclusion that such teachings could be from the original Q source and that the various other out of context teaching running throughout Luke 6, 11, and 12, which are attributed to Jesus, could actually be those of John the Baptist.