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

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  • 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 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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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