Re: [Synoptic-L] (Synoptic) Temptation narratives (re JGB's query)
- David Mealand wrote:
> Reading Jeffrey's list raises some interestingYou've noted a very important hidden assumption behind the first four
> points. To what extent does the story expect the reader
> to attribute psychological motivations to the tempter?
> Are these efforts at psychologizing alien to the original context?
> If detecting motives is in play should the focus not
> be on what is going on when someone is tempted/tested?
> But _psychologising_ even this may be alien to the way
> the story is narrated.
> Do many or perhaps all of the listed lines of interpretation
> not tell us what much later ages imagined a "diabolos" to be,
> and also tell us how the story was mined for moral lessons
> for believers of a later era, rather than seen its larger
> biblical context i.e. do we not have here a contrast of type
> and antitype.
views. But its not, I think, the only one which contributes to the
"psychologizing of the "temptation" story. There are at least three
others which, in combination with a particular view of who the Devil is
and what he does, that bring this about.
Here (along with my response to the hidden assumption about the Devil)
is what I've noted about all this in the revision of my work.
The traditional understanding of the nature of the event recounted
in Mk. 1:12-13/Mt. 4:1-11/Lk. 4:1-13 is that it is one in which
Jesus is enticed with various allurements to do what he should not
do - specifically to use miraculous power to his own advantage and,
in doing so, to act against the plan and purpose for which this
power was divinely given him.
This view of the "temptation's" nature arises from the longstanding
and widespread belief that the evangelists intended the wilderness
event to be seen as involving, and centering in, an attempt on the
part of Satan/the devil to seduce Jesus into sin. This belief is
grounded in several assumptions:
1. that the verb used by the evangelists to describe or denote what
Satan/the devil is up to – the verb peirazw – bore the meaning "to
entice, to draw someone through the prospect of pleasure or
advantage, to do evil";
2, that Satan/the devil is depicted within the story as hostile
toward Jesus and approaches him with the desire to corrupt him and
to bring about his demise, since to draw people into doing evil, to
get them to commit sin -- that is to say, to "tempt" them – is
what, according to Jewish tradition, Satan/the Devil does;
3. that the story, at least in its Matthean and Lukan forms, not
only depicts Jesus as initially beset either with doubts about the
truth of the divine declaration of his identity given at his
baptism or with a fundamental uncertainty about the way in which he
was to accomplish a mission that, in the light of his baptismal
experience of being named 'uios, he felt or suspected was his. It
also presents these doubts and this uncertainty as providing Satan/
the Devil with both the occasion and opportunity for "tempting"
Jesus as well as the method and the means to do so; and
4. that it is presumed within the Lukan and Matthean versions of
the "temptation" story that the title by which the Devil addresses
Jesus within the story (i.e., 'uios tou qeou) is used there as an
equivalent to swthr or christos (= [Final or Last] Deliverer/[King]
Messiah), and therefore that the Devils's petitions are to be read
against, and as alluding to, the expectations about the [Last]
deliverer/[King] Messiah that are found in rabbinical and other
Jewish texts which speak of the (Final or Last) Deliverer/(King)
Messiah acting as the 'first Deliverer', Moses, did and dispensing
'manna' and of the King Messiah manifesting himself spectacularly
in the Temple at his to Israel.
5. that it is also presumed within the story that Jesus is, knows
himself, and is assumed by the devil, to be endowed with the power
to work miracles.
2. Satan/the devil as hostile towards Jesus
Though it is something of a commonplace for commentators to state
that the one who comes to Jesus (or is present in the Wilderness
when Jesus arrives there) to "tempt him" does so with malice in his
heart, there is actually very little evidence that supports this
view, especially when we set the Wilderness "temptation" narratives
over against the themes and atmosphere of conflict that pervades the
other Synoptic stories of Jesus in "temptation" that we find in Mk.
8:11-13 and pars., Mk. 10:13-17//Matt pars., Mk. 12:13-17 and
pars, and Matt //Lk , where it is clear, given both the form and
wording of those stories, that those who "tempt" Jesus do indeed do
so with hostile intent. Notably, nothing of what the evangelists
use in those stories - including the form employed in the
recounting of them -- to signal or state that Jesus' "tempters"
approach him with bad intent, can be found anywhere in any version
of the Wilderness "temptation" story. Nor, when evaluated soberly,
do any of the constituent elements of these narratives -- including
the extended dialogue between the Devil and Jesus that appears in
Matthew's and Luke's versions of the story -- indicate any hostility
on the Devil's part toward Jesus.
What then accounts for the view that Satan/the devil is depicted or
assumed within Mk. 1:12-13//Mt. 4:1-11//Lk. 4:1-13 as approaching
Jesus with the desire to corrupt him and to bring about his demise?
It seems clear that this comes about by reading the story in the
light of the assumptions that when Satan/the Devil subjects Jesus
to peirasmos, he is doing something evil to Jesus, and that a
major tenet of Jewish belief in Satan/the devil was that
hostility towards humankind and a desire to corrupt them motivated
all of this figures' dealings with human beings.
But the first assumption is without merit. Two things stand solidly
against it: First, it cannot be sustained linguistically. Second,
it rides roughshod over the import of the fact, demonstrated above,
that the story of Jesus' wilderness peirasmos is specifically
cast (even in the Gospel of Mark), to recall the particular
peirasmoj to which, according to Deuteronomy, and other OT texts,
the people of Israel were subjected by Yahweh during their divinely
directed wilderness wanderings, and which emphatically was not
perpetrated out of hostility nor intended, let alone undertaken, to
harm the wilderness generation or to corrupt them.
And the second is highly questionable. The sectarians of Qumran do
not profess this belief (this function is relegated to Belial who
is viewed as distinct from Satan). Nor do those who produced the
pseudepigraphical testamentary and apocalyptic literature in which
Satan/the Devil is mentioned or makes an appearance. Nor is the
belief ever vented or given expression in Pharisaic circles where,
as Bamberger and others have noted, such titles as "The Enemy" or
"The Evil One", familiar to us from the New Testament, in which the
impression that Satan acts out of hostility are grounded, never
appear. On the contrary, what we find here is the belief that the
motive behind this figure' actions toward humankind is zeal for
divine justice and a desire to see the wrongdoer, whom he is
divinely commissioned to reveal and stand against, acknowledged
as such. If he displays any attitude at all towards human beings it
not hostility, but cynicism over their motives for being obedient to
And while it is true that we find references to Satan/the devil
acting as a seducer in the literature of Second Temple and Rabbinic
Judaism, these references are actually few and far between. More
prominently emphasized, notably even when he is spoken of as a one
who attempts to lead the elect astray, is the view that he is a
dedicated servant of God who is entrusted with, and who out of
piety carries out, the thankless but necessary task of "sifting"
the faithful from the faithless among God's people.
Moreover, it is precisely this view, and not any understanding of
Satan/the Devil as seducer, that is highlighted in the Synoptic
stories of Jesus wilderness "temptation". This is clear not only
from the fact that he is designated therein as "the one who tests"
but that the testing that he undertakes is expressly noted as
something that is divinely and initiated and directed by, as well
as in concert with, the plan and purposes of, God.
Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon)
1500 W. Pratt Blvd.
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