Re: Jeffrey's Devil (Mt/Lk)
- To: Synoptic
In Response To: Jeffrey Gibson
On: Devil in Mt/Lk
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 Jülicher, 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
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
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.