Friday, November 01, 2013

It is finished (Matthew 27)

Matthew 27 opens with the story of Judas Iscariot having second thoughts about his betrayal of Jesus. As with Peter, this leads to a series of interrelated questions: "How did Judas die?", "Who bought the Potter's field?", and "What did Judas do with the silver?" The standard skeptical solution to these questions is that there are two stories. In one, Judas throws away the silver and hangs himself, and the priests buy the field. In the other, Judas takes the silver and buys the field wherein he falls down and dies. The apologist's fusing together of these stories into one coherent whole is that Judas threw away the money and went and hanged himself. Having hanged there for some time, the rope broke and Judas' body fell down and burst in a field. The priests, who had this money that they refused to take back, decided that this money should go towards purchasing the field in which Judas died, and thus Judas vicariously bought the field after his death. For either or both reasons, the field became known as "the field of blood". As the SAB notes, verse 8 saying "unto this day" indicates that the Gospel of Matthew was written long after the events happened; certainly nobody is suggesting that the Gospel accounts were written immediately after the events they record; I'd have to look it up but even generous estimates say something like 30 years later for the earliest.

As for the misquote in verses 9-10, I've heard it said that the Jewish Canon had a bunch of minor prophets all in one book with Jeremiah, so misattributing a prophecy to Jeremiah could happen at times because of that, although I suppose it's still technically an error.

"Was Jesus silent during his trial?" I would say that he wasn't. Note that while verse 12 says "he answered nothing" this comes right after verse 11's "And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest." I think that the point that Matthew 27:14 and Mark 15:5 are making is that Jesus never said a word in his own defense. Nonetheless, Pilate seemed to be inclined to believe that Jesus was innocent and tried to have him released, to no avail.

Verse 25 does indeed blame the Jews for the death of Jesus, but I think those that use this verse as an excuse for Antisemitism conveniently forget that Jesus forgave his killers on the cross.

Eventually Jesus ends up in a robe, but it's not clear who put the robe on him nor actually what color the robe was. I'm willing to concede there are errors coming up here, but they are errors that are tough to fully pin down. Both Herod and Pilate were governors who had Roman soldiers working for them (I think only Luke has Jesus being brought before Herod) and there may have been some confusion in the order of events. Also, Jesus was so beaten and bloodied at this time that it may have been hard for bystanders to tell the color of the robe anyway, what with it being likely soaked with Jesus' blood.

"Who carried Jesus' cross?" While John's Gospel fails to mention Simon of Cyrene, that doesn't mean that he didn't exist, nor does his mention in the other Gospels mean that Jesus did not bear his cross part of the way.

"What did the soldiers give Jesus to drink?" is another question that the SAB brings up, but I think this is a manufactured contradiction. If you check the context of the verses on the linked page, you'll see that the offerings of drinks were at at least two separate moments, as the Matthew and Mark verses were before the crucifixion while Luke and John were during the crucifixion. I would suggest that Jesus was offered a drink three times, twice before his crucifixion, and then once on the cross.

"What did the sign over Jesus' head say?" While it's true as the SAB points out that none of the Gospels agree on the exact wording of the sign, they're pretty close to a consensus, and it doesn't bother me.

"Did both thieves revile Jesus?" This is one I've heard a few times, and I've also heard the standard reply, which is that both thieves reviled Jesus, but one of them had a change of heart, which for some reason is only recorded in Luke's Gospel.

"What were the last words of Jesus?" I can't say for sure, as this is definitely a question with no clear answer, but I will note one thing about the passage here in Matthew: in verse 50, it says that Jesus "cried again with a loud voice", suggesting that verse 46 was not his last words. It doesn't solve the question, but it narrows it down a bit.

"When did the Temple curtain rip?" It must have been a while since I read the Gospels, since I thought this event was only recorded in Matthew. My thoughts about having read this before will, I think, deal with the contradiction: Does it really matter? As far as I can fathom, since Jesus was killed outside of the city, and the veil of the temple was inside the city, inside the inner chamber of the temple, there is no possible way that there was an eyewitness to both of these events simultaneously. I would say it happened when Jesus died, and leave it at that.

"Was Jesus the first to rise from the dead?" I actually addressed this back in 1Samuel 28, but perhaps, no definitely a bit more could be added here. When the verses in the first column speak of Jesus being the first to rise from the dead, they're talking about something very specific; they're talking about rising from the dead to eternal life. There are a number of other individuals who were revived from death to continue their life (as happens today under normal circumstances in hospitals and such) and at least one instance in the Bible of a person's ghost being brought back to speak from beyond the grave. Now the odd occurrence that is recorded here in verses 52-53 is strange in many ways, since only Matthew records it, and it's not clear what the significance of it is. In short, I don't think there is a contradiction, but I'd be inclined to agree that this passage is a strange one.

"What did the centurion call Jesus?" Some have suggested that in fact there were two centurions present, and that each one said something different. It's also possible that a single centurion said two things.

"From where did the women watch?" I think the answer to this issue is that there were many women watching, and while most of them were far away, a small group of them (those mentioned in John's Gospel) were nearby.

"Who buried Jesus?" I don't think there is a contradiction here. Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus' body, and with Nicodemus' help, buried him in a sepulchre. As it happens, both of these men were members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, so it all fits together.

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