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Re: Jeffrey's Devil (Mt/Lk)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: GPG In Response To: Jeffrey Gibson On: Devil in Mt/Lk From: Bruce EBB (previous, commenting on Jeffrey s five positions): I noted with
    Message 1 of 1 , May 13, 2008
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      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG
      In Response To: Jeffrey Gibson
      On: Devil in Mt/Lk
      From: Bruce

      EBB (previous, commenting on Jeffrey's five positions): I noted with
      interest the five highly ingenious explanations [Jeffrey] has so far
      assembled. None of them seems to me to be correct. As so often, it may be
      wise to consider these things in context, which for Mt/Lk (as I see it)
      means Markan context. Why not include that in the survey, as long as one is
      going to be looking things up anyway?

      JG: Umm .. how does that help us decide what, according to Matthew and Luke,
      the devil is "up to"? Could you spell this out, please.

      EBB: I would think that everybody from Matthew to Adolf J├╝licher, inclusive,
      is doing two things: (a) trying to explain what Mark means in a given
      passage, and (b) trying to say something useful for believers in their
      respective own times. To analyze (b) it may seem to be valid just to look at
      what they are saying, and evaluate it from the standpoint of contemporary
      belief. But since (a) is always liable to be mixed in there, it may be
      better to be aware of it also, if only to identify it within the mixed flow,
      or to evaluate it as a shaping or constraining factor. In other words, it
      would seem to me that neither Matthew nor the commentators on Matthew are
      freely inventing a temptation scene or its meaning; they, especially
      Matthew, start from the Markan scene as a given, and go on from there, in
      one way or another.

      More generally, it seems to me that much in the second-tier Gospels, Mt and
      Lk, carries over or embeds things that for them were "givens," including a
      hearty helping of Mark, the sole and only fountainhead of the Gospel
      tradition (which itself is highly limited within the NT). Sometimes this
      Markan residue just sits there, raising consistency problems with the more
      original parts of Mt and Lk. Sometimes Mt and Lk adapt Mk so as to reduce
      those problems. Either way, it seems to me that it would be good to assess
      how Matthew relates to Mark, so as to clearly establish the "problematique"
      of Matthew, before turning to see what the later commentators, in their
      turn, make of that part of Matthew.

      Doing the same for Luke could be a contribution to understanding Luke, which
      in turn would have Synoptic significance. No? And if not, how can we tell
      before we try?


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst

      PS: MARK

      There are some differences in Mk vs his two earliest commentators. For one
      thing, Mk identifies the tempter as Satan, not as "the devil." For another,
      Mt and Lk in some sequence (but probably not independently) have Jesus "led"
      by the Spirit (Lk has "led for forty days," probably an Exodic motif not in
      Mk or Mt), whereas in Mk he is "driven," that is, compelled. A duration of
      40 days is common to all. Mk says nothing about Jesus fasting; Mt adds this
      detail and Lk also ends with it.

      (I have tried it myself; interesting results. What Mt and Lk both add is
      that Jesus was hungry afterward. That sounds natural enough but it may not
      be true to experience; what happens is that your digestive system more or
      less shuts down, your stomach shrinks a bit and then assumes a quiet
      posture. You are not so much hungry as lightheaded. Of course experiences
      may vary, but it doesn't feel to me as though Mt or Lk knew firsthand what
      they were describing).

      The order of the temptations is famously different between Mt/Lk. I feel
      that those who say that Luke has moved the Jerusalem part to the end, in
      obedience to the groundplan of his whole Gospel, which for large
      programmatic reasons has a Jerusalem culmination, have chosen the more
      easily defensible of the two options. Mt's order climaxes better, with not
      one city but the whole world. Luke strikes me as a thematically constrained
      variant of a quite locally satisfactory original.

      The name Satan, which is the only one used in Mk, seeps through in Mt at one
      place (4:10, direct address), whereas Lk consistently keeps "devil"
      throughout. If Mt were basing himself on Lk, we would need to ask why he
      introduces Satan at this particular point. If we assume that he is
      incompletely adapting Mk (Satan) to his own preference (devil), then this
      detail is sufficiently accounted for.

      [The word "devil" is highly interesting. It is not an OT word. In the NT, it
      cuts like a scalpel between the first and second generation documents. It is
      absent in Mk, Paul's genuine epistles, and the core layer of James; that
      line also includes Colossians, the earliest of the suspected
      deuteroPaulines, and not suspected by everybody. By contrast, "devil" is
      present in: (a) the second tier Gospels (Mt, Lk) and the third tier Gospel
      (Jn); (b) the unproblematical Deuteropaulines (Ephesians), (c) the *second*
      layer of James, a beautiful support for my James paper, SBL/NE 2007, though
      I didn't use it at the time and must remember to add it; (d) the Pastorals
      (1/2 Tm, Heb); (e) the pseudoPetrines (1Pt); (f) the Johannines (1Jn); (g)
      Jude; and of course (h) Rv, which likes it a lot. Neat, very neat].

      Mk has "wild beasts," Mt and Lk do not pick up on this detail. Mt/Lk focus
      on the privation, Mk rather more on the isolation: the separation from human
      context. Both isolation and privation are an easily recognizable part of an
      ascetic/mystical pattern; there are several books on this, not to mention
      articles. Both in and out of NT. The ascetic strand in Christianity
      (including the prayer in secret vs the prayer in public and several other
      points which are especially recognizable in Mk but are a little attenuated
      in Mt/Lk) may be of Indian origin; this is certainly true of the Chinese
      meditation tradition, which makes its appearance in Chinese texts very soon
      after the traditional death date of the Buddha (thus refuting the Bechert
      downdating, in case anybody is aware of that problem).

      What does Mark think Jesus is doing in the wilderness? What temptations is
      he undergoing? The same as those in Mt, only he didn't feel like mentioning
      it? I think the mystics may have the answer: the ordeal is not simply an
      ordeal for the sake of an ordeal, it is not a fraternity hazing, but a
      separation from normal context; "the practice of the presence of God." As
      such, was it part of the procedure for specially favored disciples of John?
      No way of knowing for sure, but it seems to me that this it is on the table
      as a possibility. Several details later in Mk are consistent with it, among
      them Jesus's constant recourse to isolation for spiritual renewal or
      spiritual communication.

      None of this possibility seems to remain visible in Mt/Lk, which instead
      show Jesus as tempted to assume a higher place on the God scale than Jesus
      feels that he is entitled to: to replace God in the scheme of things. Mt has
      Jesus tempted (1) to use his spiritual power for his own convenience, (2) to
      use his approved standing with God for his own personal protection, and (3)
      to shift allegiance from God to the devil in return for a worldly type of
      world dominion. All these are earthly rewards and conveniences as distinct
      from the heavenly one to which Jesus (but not any of his followers) in these
      Gospels - and not, be it noted, in Mk, - looks forward from the beginning.

      How far Matthew was inspired by the remark Jesus directed to Peter, "Get
      thee behind me, Satan" when Peter was protesting against the supposed need
      for Jesus' death, is another interesting question. Out of that episode, Mt
      might easily have fashioned #3 temptation, and possibly been influenced by
      it in the others as well.

      As David Mealand has very fitly said, "To what extent does the story expect
      the reader to attribute psychological motivations to the tempter?" The
      implied answer seems to be, Zero. If so, I would agree. I think it is a
      given for Mt, and for his intended readers, that the devil is there to
      represent bad alternatives, and the devil's inclination to badness, his wish
      to tempt the children of light away from the light, in short his occupancy
      of the negative pole of the Iranian universe, need no explanation in
      post-Exilic literature; they are definitional. Nor do the writers of wolf
      and sheep stories find it needful to explain the ravening of the wolf: it's
      a typological given.

      What later commentators do with that is another question, whose answer
      belongs to later church history, and I don't myself care to follow things
      that far. Of course Jeffrey or anybody else is free to do so. Though I must
      say we miss their talents on what I take to be the front line of things.

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