The Gospel of Matthew is an expanded version of the Gospel of Mark.*
Almost all the story elements, phrases and words used by Mark – about ninety-five per cent of them – are regurgitated in Matthew. But the Markan core has been refined by the later writer with extra detail, explanatory clauses and improved adjectives. The gospel has gained an extra eight thousand words. "Difficult" passages have been improved upon. Thus, for example, where Mark tells briefly of a freshly baptized Jesus, tempted in the wilderness by Satan, Matthew illustrates that temptation with three examples: taunts of bread from stones, falling from the temple pinnacle, and a gift of the world. Each example is drawn – not from history! – but from Jewish scripture (Deuteronomy and Psalms).
But why rewrite Mark at all?
Matthew is writing later. The Second Coming has not materialized, the Jews have suffered a second catastrophic defeat at the hands of Rome, and the Marcionites were already circulating an early version of Luke, diluting the Jewishness of the divine mission. Matthew will put the Jesus train back onto its Jewish tracks.
From Righteous man to Demigod
Matthew's main contributions to the Jesus tale are stories of the divine nature, shown most acutely in the birth and postmortem appearances.
The righteous man of Mark's tale, chosen by God for the infusion of the holy spirit at his adult baptism, has been promoted to a demigod from birth. The snippets of human emotion and foibles found in Mark (anger, tiredness, amazement, grief, etc) are downplayed or erased. On the other hand, a raft of purported prophecies, gleaned from across Jewish scripture, have been marshalled by Matthew as proof texts that the hero of his gospel fulfills all the expectations of the sages and is a unique Son of God.
Indeed, in Matthew's reworking, the Jewish prophets have been vindicated. Jesus himself emphasizes the Jewishness of his mission: it is to "fulfil the Law" (Matthew 5.17), not its Pauline abolition. The twelve disciples, representative of the Jewish people, often dull-witted in Mark and told by Jesus they will "serve not rule" (Mark 10.37-45), are given an improved status. They will "sit in judgement of Israel on twelve thrones" (Matthew 19.28).
Mark's simple tale had the form of a holy play but after Matthew's redaction, the work has become an instructional text, making the whole less suitable for street theatre but appropriate for use in heretical synagogues. Jesus now speaks long sermons (notably, On the Mount) and performs miracles for didactic purpose.
An incorrigible plagiarist "makes
the best of it"
the oracles in the Hebrew language, but everyone translated
them as he was able."
c. 135 AD (Eusebius, Ecclesiastic History III, 39.16)
The final draft of Matthew's Gospel (still unnamed)
emerged sometime after the war of 135 AD.
In the aftermath of that
devastating conflict, a Greek-speaking Jew, writing in the pagan
city of Antioch, had been at pains to reassure the Roman authorities
that his particular faith posed no threat to the imperium. The writer
had fled 'fundamentalist' Jerusalem for the relative enlightenment of the
pagan city of Antioch. He had with him an early version of 'Mark'
and used this as the basis for his own story. His creation would
eventually become known as 'Matthew.' He wrote for a Jewish
audience, one still close to the ancestral faith. He thus has his
"I come not
to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfil them. Till
heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle shall pass
the law, till all be fulfilled" – Matthew 5.17,18.
to Paul's frequent references to the Law having been superseded
by the "risen
Christ"! (Romans 7.4,6; Galatians 5.18; Ephesians 2.15 etc.).
After losing in the wars with Rome, no doubt all Jews felt defensive, and Matthew accommodates
At this point,
the Christ story acquired the first of two (contradictory!)
genealogies. Though "son of the creator god",
and presumably not really needing an earthly pedigree at all,
Jesus none the less acquired a surrogate father, Joseph, and
back to King David. Again, none of this is to be found in
Pauls writings but Paul is now dead.
In order to meet
traditional Jewish expectations that the messiah would arise from
of David" the writer prefaced Mark's baptism story
with an impressive genealogy. The author of Matthew also tried to
up the embarrassing theology of Jesuss baptism by the
"sinner" John the Baptist, by adding a "rationale", absent
"Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us
to fulfil all righteousness." – Matthew 3.15.
But establishing a bona fides claim to messianic hopes of
the Jews had to go hand-in-hand with toadying to Rome.
Thus the writer rehashes the story of Pharaohs murder
of male babies (found in Exodus 1.15,22) into Herods
murder of male babies. Since Herod had died in 4 BC and
the supposed Jesus had not been "born" until the
governorship of Quinirius (beginning in 6 AD) the validity of
murder is questionable,
even before one considers the total absence of historical evidence.
Yet the point was to blacken the
Jewish priesthood (Christ-killers
baby- killers!) and distance Paulite Christians from them.
Copies his own calling?!
"Matthew", purportedly chosen by the godman as one of his intimate band of acolytes, even copies the story of his own calling, word-for-word, from the testimony of "Mark", erstwhile travelling companion of St Paul and a non-witness to the holy melodrama!
The only difference is that Mark calls his publican (tax collector) Levi son of Alphaeus not Matthew. Confusingly, later in his yarn, the author of Mark names Matthew as one of the twelve and not Levi. He also decides that it is a James who is "son of Alphaeus" (Mark 3.18). The authors of Luke and Matthew both agree that it is James who is a son of Alphaeus (Luke 6.15; Matthew 10.3) and not Levi. In fact, Matthew fails to mention a Levi at all.
Oh well, it is all fiction.
"And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.
And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." – (2.14-17)
"And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." – (9.9-13)
An easy trick when you rewrite both 'prophecy' and
The writer of Matthew, though
building his story upon a copy of Mark, goes to great pains
to add an element of his own: the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
On eleven occasions he introduces the formula "... this
happened in order to fulfil what was said by the prophet ..."
How better to convince fellow Jews that the god-man really had arrived,
was in fact the chosen "Jesus of Nazareth", than to show that his
every word and deed had been presaged by the ancient Jewish oracles.
was to tease out new interpretations of the old scripture
wrenching his references completely out of context in fact and
juxtapositioning these "quotations" with some pithy incident in
the Jesus biography which he is fabricating. How
can he get away with this duplicity? Because fortunately for
'Matthew' he was writing in Greek for a Greek-speaking audience,
most of whom had no direct familiarity with Hebrew scripture but
relied if on any other source at all on the Greek
translation, the Septuagint. Matthew even misquotes freely
from this secondhand source to serve his own purposes.
the prophecy of a Virgin Birth: Famously, Matthew maintains
that 'Isaiah' had prophesied that Jesus would be born
of a virgin:
a virgin will be with child, and will bring forth a son,
will call his name Emmanuel,"
– Matthew 1.23.
7.14). But the Greek-speaking translators of this
version of Hebrew scripture (prepared in 3rd century BC Alexandria)
slipped up and had translated 'almah' (young woman) into
the Greek 'parthenos' (virgin).
The Hebrew original says:
'Hinneh ha-almah harah ve-yeldeth ben ve-karath shem-o immanuel.'
the verse reads: 'Behold, the young woman has conceived
and bears a son and calls his name Immanuel.'
The slip did
not matter at the time, for in context, Isaiahs prophecy
(set in the 8th century BC but probably written in the 5th
century BC) had been given as reassurance to King Ahaz of Judah that
his royal line would survive, despite the ongoing siege of Jerusalem
by the Syrians. And it did. In other words, the prophecy had nothing
to do with events in Judaea eight hundred years into the future!
Yet upon this
doctored verse from Isaiah the deceitful scribe who wrote Matthew
was to concoct the infamous prophecy that somehow the ancient Jewish
text had presaged the miraculous birth of the Christian godman.
a prophecy of the city of birth: The 8th century BC Jewish sage 'Micah'
writes about Assyrian invaders and a series of skirmishes in Samaria.
He predicts (quite incorrectly as it turns out) that a ruler will
arise from David's Bethlehem and conquer Assyria.
What does Micah actually
say? The Massoretic (Hebrew) text of Micah 5.2, translated,
Bethlehem Ephrathah who is little among the clans of Judah, yet
out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be a ruler
'Bethlehem Ephrathah' here refers to the clan who are descendants from a man called
Bethlehem, the son of Caleb's second wife Ephrathah referred
to in 1 Chronicles it does not refer to a town at all!
subtly alters the quoted text in his own story (2.6):
"And thou Bethlehem,
in the land of Judah, are by no means the most insignificant of
Judah, for out of you will come forth a ruler in Israel."
What Matthew has
done is change the reference to a clan to a reference to
a city but who would notice!
Man Who Spoke in Old Testament Quotes:
I send a messenger who will clear a path before me."
but also Malachi 3.1 !!
desire mercy not sacrifice."
but also Hosea 6.6 !!
God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?"
Yes, but also Psalm 22.1 !!
Testament' scripture provided the author of Matthew not only with scenarios for the various 'mini dramas'
but dialogue for his character as well!
a prophecy of the hero's hometown:
The writer of Matthew started
the deceit that the title 'Jesus the Nazarene' should in some manner
relate to Nazareth, by quoting 'prophecy':
came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might
was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." – Matthew
With this, Matthew
closes his fable of Jesus's early years. Yet Matthew is misquoting he
would surely know nowhere in Jewish prophetic
literature is there any reference to a Nazarene. What is
'foretold' (or at least mentioned several times) in Old Testament
scripture is the appearance of a Nazarite. For example:
"For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor
shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto
God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out
the hand of the Philistines." – Judges 13.5.
substitutes one word for another. By replacing Nazarite ('he
who vows to grow long hair and serve god') with a term which appears
to imply 'resident of' he is able to fabricate a hometown
link for his fictitious hero.
a reason for the trip to Egypt: Only Matthew tells the story of the
holy family rushing off to Egypt to escape the murderous intent
of Herod the Great. And yet Herod was a firmly
established ruler who skillfully stayed on the winning side at Rome
four decades. He also had full-grown male heirs
to succeed him.
The notion that Herod would
be "afraid" that the baby of an obscure Nazareth carpenter
would supplant him is laughable. According to Luke the blessed trio returned immediately
to Nazareth without any concern for the wrath of the Jewish king. But the Egyptian connection is vital to Matthew's purposes he
has in mind a literary vignette in which Herod plays the part of
"Pharaoh", infants are killed, and "Israel" (="Jesus")
Matthew this time
quotes the venerable "Hosea", though without
giving his source:
"So he got
up and took along the young child and its mother by night
withdrew into Egypt, and he stayed there until the decease of
Herod, for that to be fulfilled which was spoken by Jehovah
his prophet, saying: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.' "
Perhaps if Matthew
had admitted that he was selectively quoting from Hosea 11.1
informed listeners would have known that the reference is not a
prophecy at all. Hosea is lamenting the 'degenerate vine' of
Israel of his own day, unlike the chosen people at an earlier time:
was a boy, then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my
"Israel" and "son" here
mean the Jewish people. In other words, the connection of
the Hebrew exodus with Jesus is completely spurious but
it makes a good story.
a prophecy of Herod's (fictional) 'Massacre of the Innocents':
switches his source to 'Jeremiah', whose commentary
is actually on the 6th century BC Babylonian captivity. At verse
31.15 the oracle says:
what Jehovah has said, 'In Ramah a voice is being heard,
and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping over her sons. She has refused
to be comforted over her sons, because they are no more.' "
Are Rachel's sons 'no
more'? No, they are in Babylon and what's more God
himself assures Rachel that they will be back in the very next
your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears ... they
certainly return from the land of the enemy. And there exists
a hope for your future ... and the sons will certainly return
their own territory." (31.15,17)
Lifting the sage's words
for his own story, Matthew juxtapositions Herod's 'crime'
with the convenient 'Babylonian' wailing:
"Herod ... sent
out and had all the boys in Bethlehem and in all its districts
done away with, from two years of age and under ... Then
fulfilled which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
'A voice was being heard in Ramah, weeping and much wailing;
was Rachel weeping for her children and she was unwilling to
take comfort, because they are no more.' " (2.16-18)
Josephus nor any other source mentions the mass killing and
yet they detailed Herod's real crimes are at great length.
So cavalier is Matthew
with his 'quotations' from the prophets that he even wrongly
attributes one quote: in referring to Judas's "thirty pieces of silver"
(27.3,10) he maintains that the prophecy of 'Jeremiah'
had been fulfilled and yet it is 'Zechariah'
(11.12-13) who used the phrase!
which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour.
That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary."
leading Pharisee and theorist of Judaism during
time of Herod the Great. (Babylonian
Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a.)
It is placed into the mouth of Jesus a century later:
" All things whatsoever ye
would that men should do to you, do ye even so
this is the law and the prophets." – Matthew 7.12.
Faking an Ass
throws in another "prophecy" from 'Zechariah'
that the King will arrive at Jerusalem mounted on an ass (and
actually misreads the quotation and brings along a colt as well!)
of Jerusalem. Look! Your king himself comes to you. He is
righteous, yes, saved; humble and riding
ass, even upon a full-grown animal the son of a she-ass."
But he goes on to say:
will be from sea to sea and from the river to the ends
of the earth." (9.10)
When was all this
written? Quite late, possibly during the Maccabean period, and
certainly not by the scribe identified as Zechariah, the
author of chapters 1 - 8. What was being prophesied? Much
of the book relates hostility to the vast empire of Darius
the Great (522-486 BC). Darius was the suppressor
of rebellion and conqueror of Egypt. He really did have an empire from "sea to
sea." The scribe who wrote in Zechariah's name, prophesying
with hindsight, certainly was not thinking about events two or three
hundred years after his own time.
The author of Matthew demonstrates the patently fabricated character of the gospels by taking episodes from Mark's original yarn and simply doubling the beneficiaries of the miraculous healings – twice the magic.
Well they do say a story grows with the telling!
"They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Ger'asenes And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs;
– Mark 5.1-3.
"And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way.
– Matthew 8.28.
"And as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging.
And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me!"
- Mark 10:46-47.
"And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him. And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David.
And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David."
– Matthew 20.29-31.
On the outskirts of Bethsaida
"And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him ...
After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.
And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town."
– Mark 8:22-26.
On the outskirts of Capernaum
"And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou son of David, have mercy on us!
And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him ...
Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you.
And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it."
– Matthew 9.27-30.
|Matthew is not above inflating even his own story, as when he reprises the yarn of a demon-possessed man. First time round Jesus uses his power to give the mute man his speech. Second time round, the man is blind as well as mute and JC of course cures both maladies!
"While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke.
The crowd was amazed and said, "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel."
But the Pharisees said, 'It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.' "
– Matthew 9.32-34.
Blind mute man
"Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.
All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?"
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons."
– Matthew 12.22-24.
Having bulked out Mark's story of the god-man with "ancient prophecy" in
other words, with the "evidence" that would convince
Jews who still had faith in the prophets Matthew writes
an altogether more exciting ending to the sacred biography.
god-man's death is the catalyst for severe earthquake, the rising
of many corpses that go off to Jerusalem (!!), guards on the
(an idea copied from Joshua), and a snowy white angel
sitting on a tombstone. This angel instructs Mary Magdalene and
Mary" to quickly tell the disciples of the risen god-man, though
before they can do so, JC himself puts in an appearance
and repeats the instruction. Unlike in Mark, the women
are ecstatic with joy, not filled with fear; and Jesus promises
to be with them "always".
devotes rather fewer words to the fabulous resurrection than
to rebutting the idea that the disciples had simply stolen
the body a tale obviously popular among the Jews
when the fable was written ("This saying has been spread
abroad among the Jews up to this very day" 28.15).
his keenness to add the "miraculous birth" preface had a similar motivation
to rebut Jewish slurs that if the Christian god-man had
been born to an unmarried mother it was pretty scandalous
the main body of his fable into five chunks of priestly instruction,
each ending with the same formula "Now when Jesus
had finished these words ..." (7.28;11.1;13.53;188.8.131.52).
Each discourse emphasizes in some way the role of the Church in
inheriting the promised 'Kingdom'.
of Matthew emphasized the Jewish festival calendar, and for
this reason Matthew provided blocks of Christian teaching
material to be used in preparation for or during the five
great celebratory Jewish festivals of the year."
– Spong, Liberating the Gospels, p92/3.
In other words,
in Matthew, we have a gospel for an embryonic Church,
appealing primarily to a Jewish audience, and servicing its own
for a sacred text. The work is a pious fantasy, its hero
a fabrication from his humble beginnings to his portentous end.
Did They Get Their Ideas From?
Family"? The Whole Nativity Sequence, Luxor
1700 BC !
Room, Temple of Amen, court of Amenhotep III
Annunciation: In the first panel, Thoth ("Gabriel")
hails Mut-em-ua ("Mother of One"),
informing her she will bear a son (Amenhotep) in
the character of Horus, the divine child.
In the second panel, Kneph ("the Holy
Spirit") descends & assisted by Hathor,
impregnates the virgin by holding the "ankh",
symbol of life, to her mouth.
In the the third panel, Mut-em-ua, is seated on a
birthing stool; a nurse holds the newborn child.
Below, the child is enthroned and receives gifts from
three kneeling human figures.
J. S, Spong, Liberating the Gospels (Harper, 1996)
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews (Everyman, 1939)
A. N. Wilson, Jesus (Harper Collins, 1993)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
Peake's Commentary on the Bible (Nelson, 1962)
Alvar Ellegard, Jesus 100 years before Christ (Century, 1999)
Norman Cantor, The Sacred Chain - A History of the Jews (Harper
Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version (Penguin, 1991)
J. S. Spong, Resurrection (Harper, 1994)
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Copyright © 2004
by Kenneth Humphreys.
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