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Matthean Irony (was: Re: Beast(s) ridden by Jesus)

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  • Mark Goodacre
    ... I have nothing to add on the garments / beasts question which I brought up on b-greek and Synoptic-L on Palm Sunday, but I would like to comment again on
    Message 1 of 5 , Jun 1, 1998
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      Carl Conrad wrote:

      >Would Mark Goodacre and Stephen Carlson care to comment on this one
      >(and perhaps also on the question whether Matthew the evangelist is
      >capable of irony)?

      I have nothing to add on the garments / beasts question which I
      brought up on b-greek and Synoptic-L on Palm Sunday, but I would like
      to comment again on the issue of irony in Matthew.

      My feeling would be that there is irony in Matthew, especially in the
      Passion Narrative, but that most of it comes in from Mark's much more
      richly ironic Passion Narrative. Matthew's tendency is to play down
      the elements of dramatic irony, most clearly in the Centurion's
      confession. In Mark this is clearly ironic: the reader can see that
      the veil of the temple has torn in two from top to bottom (15.38) but
      all that the centurion can see is the last despairing cry of Jesus
      (15.39). Mockingly, he says "Huh, surely this was a son of God".

      Matthew apparently transforms the scene: Matt. 27.51a repeats Mark
      15.38, the veil of the temple tearing in two, but Matt. 27.51b-53
      adds an earthquake and people rising; Matt. 27.54 then has plural
      centurions seeing "the earthquake and all that had happened" and
      making the confession "Surely this was a Son of God".

      Likewise Mark 14.65 has people spitting, flogging and mocking
      Jesus and asking him to "Prophecy!", little realising that they were
      in the midst of fulfilling the very prophecy that Jesus has made that
      he will be mocked, spat upon and flogged (10.33-34). Matthew
      (26.67-68) does not pick up the irony and adds "Who is it who smote
      you?" -- and Luke (famously) agrees with him in this against Mark.

      My feeling would therefore be that the elements of dramatic irony
      present in the Passion Narrative come in to Matthew from his
      source in Mark. The classic is Matt. 27.27-29 // Mark 15.17-19: the
      crown of thorns, the scarlet robe, "the king of the Jews", to the
      persecuters a farce but to the reader Jesus' coronation.

      Mark
      -------------------------------------------
      Dr Mark Goodacre M.S.Goodacre@...
      Dept. of Theology, University of Birmingham
      Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/goodacre
    • Stephen C. Carlson
      ... I hate to recycle my old posts, but I believe that there is at least one Matthean account that has a more heightened sense of irony than ... I was looking
      Message 2 of 5 , Jun 1, 1998
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        At 10:07 6/1/98 +0000, Mark Goodacre wrote:
        >Carl Conrad wrote:
        >>Would Mark Goodacre and Stephen Carlson care to comment on this one
        >>(and perhaps also on the question whether Matthew the evangelist is
        >>capable of irony)?
        >
        >I have nothing to add on the garments / beasts question which I
        >brought up on b-greek and Synoptic-L on Palm Sunday, but I would like
        >to comment again on the issue of irony in Matthew.

        I hate to recycle my old posts, but I believe that there is at least
        one Matthean account that has a more heightened sense of irony than
        the parallel account in Mark. Here is the old post:

        ----
        I was looking at Mt20:20-28 [= Mk10:35-45], the incident where the
        mother (Mt20:21) of the sons of Zebadee comes to Jesus and asks him
        to declare that her two sons will sit (KAQISWSIN) at his right (EK
        DEXIWN SOU) and left (EX EUWNUMWN SOU). Jesus responds that they
        didn't know (OUK OIDATE - note plural) what they were asking for
        (Mt20:22 = Mk10:38), then affirms that they will indeed drink from
        his cup (Mt20:23=Mk10:39), but the right and left have already been
        prepared for someone else by the Father.

        Now I had always assumed that "on the right and left of Jesus" meant
        positions of honor with regard to Jesus, and most of the commentaries
        agree with that. After all, Stephen saw "the Son of Man standing at
        the right hand of God" (Ac7:56). The problems I'm having with this
        interpretation are (a) the Greek idiom usually makes "hand" explicit,
        which it is not here, and (b) I can't recall how being on the *left*
        of someone is a good thing. Compare this with Mt25:33 where the sheep
        are on the right and the goats on the left.

        Furthermore, the presense of their mother in Matthew's version seems
        quite odd. Who asks for an important position through his mother? I
        don't exactly buy the common explanation that Matthew is trying to tone
        the anti-disciple aspect of Mark's version by putting the request on
        the lips of their mother. That can't be right, because Mt20:22 is clear
        that Jesus understood immediately who really was behind the request,
        and, I said earlier, it seems even worse for the reputation of such
        important disciples to be hiding behind their mother.

        So, the request is a puzzle, and the fact that the mother makes the
        request in Matthew is also puzzling. I've come up a possible way to
        understand this story that seems to make sense, but I'd like all of
        your input on it.

        The request to sit at the right and left of Jesus is loaded with
        irony: this is made clear by Jesus' response: you don't know what
        you're asking for. The next time we see the mother of John and
        James is at the crucifixion (Mt27:56 = Mk15:40 [called Salome]),
        where, sure enough, Jesus has someone at his right and his left
        (Mt27:38 = Mk15:27). This connection is brought out quite subtly
        in Matthew, who uses her to link the two passages, but very much
        lacking in Mark. Although she (or they) may not have know it at
        the time, their request is yet another (ironic) prediction of the
        crucifixion, occuring immediately after the third passion prediction
        by Jesus. Luke's summary that "the disciples did not grasp what
        what was said" (18:34) is consistent with that.
        ---

        Stephen Carlson
        --
        Stephen C. Carlson : Poetry speaks of aspirations,
        scarlson@... : and songs chant the words.
        http://www.mindspring.com/~scarlson/ : -- Shujing 2.35
      • Antonio Jerez
        Mark Goodacre wrote:
        Message 3 of 5 , Jun 3, 1998
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          Mark Goodacre wrote:


          <My feeling would be that there is irony in Matthew, especially in the
          <Passion Narrative, but that most of it comes in from Mark's much more
          <richly ironic Passion Narrative. Matthew's tendency is to play down
          <the elements of dramatic irony, most clearly in the Centurion's
          <confession. In Mark this is clearly ironic: the reader can see that
          <the veil of the temple has torn in two from top to bottom (15.38) but
          <all that the centurion can see is the last despairing cry of Jesus
          <(15.39). Mockingly, he says "Huh, surely this was a son of God".

          I know that Robert Fowler has argued for this interpretation of
          the Centurions words in "Let the reader understand". But I think
          this may be a case where we are reading just too much irony
          into Mark's text. Why is this "clearly ironic"? Is there something
          in the greek that makes the Centurions words mocking and not
          just simply reverential?

          Best wishes

          Antonio
        • Jim Deardorff
          Stephen, in your post below you raised some interesting questions I d like to address also. ... In Mt 20:21 the context is one of desiring to sit within Jesus
          Message 4 of 5 , Jun 3, 1998
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            Stephen, in your post below you raised some interesting questions I'd like
            to address also.

            At 10:59 PM 6/1/98, Stephen C. Carlson wrote:

            >I hate to recycle my old posts, but I believe that there is at least
            >one Matthean account that has a more heightened sense of irony than
            >the parallel account in Mark. Here is the old post:
            >----
            >I was looking at Mt20:20-28 [= Mk10:35-45], the incident where the
            >mother (Mt20:21) of the sons of Zebadee comes to Jesus and asks him
            >to declare that her two sons will sit (KAQISWSIN) at his right (EK
            >DEXIWN SOU) and left (EX EUWNUMWN SOU). Jesus responds that they
            >didn't know (OUK OIDATE - note plural) what they were asking for
            >(Mt20:22 = Mk10:38), then affirms that they will indeed drink from
            >his cup (Mt20:23=Mk10:39), but the right and left have already been
            >prepared for someone else by the Father.
            >
            >Now I had always assumed that "on the right and left of Jesus" meant
            >positions of honor with regard to Jesus, and most of the commentaries
            >agree with that. After all, Stephen saw "the Son of Man standing at
            >the right hand of God" (Ac7:56). The problems I'm having with this
            >interpretation are (a) the Greek idiom usually makes "hand" explicit,
            >which it is not here, and (b) I can't recall how being on the *left*
            >of someone is a good thing. Compare this with Mt25:33 where the sheep
            >are on the right and the goats on the left.

            In Mt 20:21 the context is one of desiring to sit within Jesus' kingdom, by
            which I surmise the compiler of Matthew meant being in heaven with Jesus,
            after death. Within that kingdom, all is supposed to be glorious and good,
            with no evil there, and so it could scarcely be any worse to be on Jesus'
            left there than on his right; perhaps only a lesser degree of importance or
            prestige on the left. This contrasts with Mt 25:33&41, where those on the
            left will be tossed out of the kingdom and proceed straight to hell.

            >Furthermore, the presense of their mother in Matthew's version seems
            >quite odd. Who asks for an important position through his mother?

            This is a good indication of it being a Matthean redaction.

            > I
            >don't exactly buy the common explanation that Matthew is trying to tone
            >the anti-disciple aspect of Mark's version by putting the request on
            >the lips of their mother. That can't be right, because Mt20:22 is >clear
            >that Jesus understood immediately who really was behind the request,
            >and, I said earlier, it seems even worse for the reputation of such
            >important disciples to be hiding behind their mother.

            This is of course consistent with the AH and Matthew possessing an extensive
            source which he was redacting when forming his gospel. It is also
            consistent with Pierson Parker's conclusion that this is but another of many
            examples wherein the writer of Mark cast the disciples in a more disparaging
            light than does Matthew. That is, it was the writer of Mark who then
            removed the mother from the scene so as to show the Jewish disciples in a
            poorer light. I think Parker wss correct here, since the additional show of
            disrespect for Jesus by the two sons in Mk 10:35b also does not occur in
            Matthew.

            >So, the request is a puzzle, and the fact that the mother makes the
            >request in Matthew is also puzzling. I've come up a possible way to
            >understand this story that seems to make sense, but I'd like all of
            >your input on it.

            As I see it, one aim of the writer of Matthew here was to present another
            pericope that would justify his "the last will be first..." saying, with Mt
            20:23 conveying another aim. But your argument below might take higher
            priority.

            >The request to sit at the right and left of Jesus is loaded with
            >irony: this is made clear by Jesus' response: you don't know what
            >you're asking for. The next time we see the mother of John and
            >James is at the crucifixion (Mt27:56 = Mk15:40 [called Salome]),
            >where, sure enough, Jesus has someone at his right and his left
            >(Mt27:38 = Mk15:27). This connection is brought out quite subtly
            >in Matthew, who uses her to link the two passages, but very much
            >lacking in Mark. Although she (or they) may not have know it at
            >the time, their request is yet another (ironic) prediction of the
            >crucifixion, occuring immediately after the third passion prediction
            >by Jesus. {...]

            This is quite interesting and perceptive. From my point of view, it
            can explain why the mother of the Zebedee sons is mentioned explicitly as
            being present at the crucifixion, this then being a redaction, as she is not
            mentioned within the (alleged pre-Matthean) document I've explored in my web
            site. I think it strengthens your suggestion that Mt 20:20-28 did not stem
            from Mk 10:35-44. Surely the writer of Mark did not grasp this connotation
            that you've set forth, since he added his baptism theme to the "drink the
            cup" theme. But as usual, arguments of this sort are reversible.

            Jim Deardorff
            Corvallis, Oregon
            E-mail: deardorj@...
            Home page: http://www.proaxis.com/~deardorj/index.htm
          • skelley@daemen.edu
            On 6/3/98 12:38PM, in message , Antonio ... I agree. With all due respect to Bob Fowler, I follow Mary Ann Tolbert on
            Message 5 of 5 , Jun 3, 1998
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              On 6/3/98 12:38PM, in message <01bd8f0e$0a68db00$LocalHost@antonioj>, "Antonio
              Jerez" <antonio.jerez@...> wrote:
              >
              > I know that Robert Fowler has argued for this interpretation of
              > the Centurions words in "Let the reader understand". But I think
              > this may be a case where we are reading just too much irony
              > into Mark's text. Why is this "clearly ironic"? Is there something
              > in the greek that makes the Centurions words mocking and not
              > just simply reverential?
              >

              I agree. With all due respect to Bob Fowler, I follow Mary Ann Tolbert on this
              one. If the Centurion's words are a confession of faith, however, they are not
              without a certain amount of irony. Jesus spends much of Mark trying to open
              the disciple's eyes to the meaning of the cross and, despite his best efforts,
              is unable to do so. Then the Centurion, who (presumably) has never heard Jesus
              teach, recognizes that he's the Messiah by the way he dies. Its dramatic
              irony, but its ironic nonetheless- and it fits in with a lot of Mark's overall
              themes.

              Shawn Kelley
              skelley@...
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