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[Synoptic-L] More on Matt 19:16ff [was: Did Mark reject...]

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  • Maluflen@aol.com
    With professor Longstaff s permission, I am sending to the list a response to my questions about this passage which he sent to me offline. Since his pointed
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 17, 2002
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      With professor Longstaff's permission, I am sending to the list a response to my questions about this passage which he sent to me offline. Since his pointed comments would undoubtedly be of interest to others on this list who may have had problems with his theory similar to my own, it seemed only right to post his response to the list in slightly edited form:

      [I had written]

      <<My main problem is with the
      >gender of ho agathos in Matt 19:17b. Why is it masculine and not neuter if
      >it is a reference to the Law? If "the good"in this phrase were a reference
      >to the Law, I would expect to read "hen estin to agathon". I agree with
      >you (or at least with what I think you said in a previous post) that ho
      >agathos should be read as subject and heis as predicate of the phrase, but
      >the gender of both does not seem to me to support your reading. You also
      >do not seem to incorporate 19:17a very well into your overall
      >interpretation of the text: "why do you ask ME...?".>>

      [Dr. Longstaff responded]

      Good questions...
      I certainly don't want to dismiss your reservations out of hand but they
      are not ones that I find terribly problematic. First, the gender issue. I
      wonder why you would expect the law to be referred to as neuter. In Hebrew
      there is, of course, no neuter. Torah is a feminine noun. However, it would
      be odd to use the feminine gender to refer to the Law in Greek and Matthew
      writes in Greek. In Greek NOMOS (Law) is a masculine noun and, therefore,
      it seems to me quite natural to make a masculine reference to
      Law/Torah/Nomos in Greek. In fact if the allusion was, for Greek readers,
      to NOMOS then the neuter might be confusing -- one would never write o nomos
      to agathon -- and so if nomos is the implied antecedent of agathos, then
      agathos is exactly what I would expect.

      [This makes good sense to me now; for some reason, I had not thought of nomos as a possible implied reference of ho agathos.]

      Second, you are quite right that I didn't discuss 19:17a. ... It seems to me that Jesus' response must be "Why do you ask me..." and then we have the prepositional phrase which I would translate "about the good," peri tou agathou. What will one understand the antecedent of agathou to be?
      Only if one reads Matthew through Mark's "Good Teacher" can one see this as
      a reference to Jesus. At least I would not translate this as "Why do you
      ask me about the good person, namely myself." I would take agathou as
      masculine and as a reference to Nomos/Law/Torah.

      [Again, this makes good sense to me now.]

      Your third question is
      related to this.

      Third, and finally, with respect to Jesus' opening question, I quite agree
      that we should read agathon as an attributive adjective modifying the
      interrogative particle. I think that this is absolutely correct. Here,
      though, I would understand the question to be "What good thing," i.e., what
      specific commandment, what mitzvah, etc. must I do to have eternal life. As
      I noted, this sort of question probably stands behind the traditions about
      which is the greatest commandment and is a well known topic discussed in
      Judaism. The questioner asked about a specific mitzvah. Jesus responds that
      the Torah is a unit and focuses on the centrality of the decalogue. The
      first question about a specific mitzvah (good thing) opens a dialogue about
      the whole Torah - and more. There are a number of places where, in rabbinic
      dialogues, one finds the question posed something like this: is there one
      commandment that is so important that in fulfilling it I fulfill the entire
      Torah? Conversely, is there one commandment, so important, that if I break
      it I have violated the entire Torah? It is not unlike the answer to the
      question, "Is the Torah observed in Israel?" The answer? Yes, if even one
      Israelite, keeps only one commandment because it is the commandment of God
      then the Torah is observed in Israel. And no, for if even one Israelite,
      breaks only one commandment knowing it to be the commandment of God then
      the Torah is not observed in Israel.

      [I am fully satisfied with this response, and, as a corollary, it does seem to me to make a good argument for the priority of Matthew in this pericope.]

      Leonard Maluf

    • Maluflen@aol.com
      In a message dated 6/17/2002 5:43:28 AM Pacific Daylight Time, Maluflen@aol.com writes: [Citing Thomas Longstaff here] ... It seems clear that Dr. Longstaff
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 17, 2002
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        In a message dated 6/17/2002 5:43:28 AM Pacific Daylight Time, Maluflen@... writes:

        [Citing Thomas Longstaff here]

        Third, and finally, with respect to Jesus' opening question, I quite agree
        that we should read agathon as an attributive adjective modifying the
        interrogative particle. I think that this is absolutely correct. Here,
        though, I would understand the question to be "What good thing," i.e., what
        specific commandment, what mitzvah, etc., must I do to have eternal life. As
        I noted, this sort of question probably stands behind the traditions about
        which is the greatest commandment and is a well known topic discussed in
        Judaism. The questioner asked about a specific mitzvah. Jesus responds that
        the Torah is a unit and focuses on the centrality of the decalogue. The
        first question about a specific mitzvah (good thing) opens a dialogue about
        the whole Torah - and more.


        It seems clear that Dr. Longstaff did not mean to say, at the beginning of the cited paragraph, "with respect to Jesus' opening question", but rather, "with respect to the opening question put to Jesus". So if I read the above correctly, Tom is saying that in the first use of agathos, that of the young man, in "ti agathon...?", the phrase means "what good thing", what particular mitzvah. In 17a, the first phrase of Jesus' response, "peri tou agathou" means "about the good thing" (so "...tou agathou" is probably neuter here as well, but the phrase is questioning why the young man should ask about this -- BECAUSE, Jesus goes on, "heis estin ho agathos", that is, "the good (= the law) is one" (and therefore contains numerous things that must be done.) It thus follows quite logically, "if you wish to enter life, keep the commandments" -- in the plural -- which are then enumerated in part. I think this really makes good sense now, and I even wonder why Stephen Carlson thinks the text is obscure (other than by complications resulting precisely from comparing the text with Mark's and Luke's version). Perhaps he will elaborate his reasons.

        Leonard Maluf
      • Stephen C. Carlson
        ... I think it is obscure because it is difficult for me to understand. How does one explain such a brute fact? ;-) More seriously, the plausible Cope
        Message 3 of 3 , Jun 17, 2002
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          At 10:38 AM 6/17/02 EDT, Maluflen@... wrote:
          >In a message dated 6/17/2002 5:43:28 AM Pacific Daylight Time,
          >Maluflen@... writes:
          >I think this really makes good sense now, and I even wonder why Stephen
          >Carlson thinks the text is obscure (other than by complications resulting
          >precisely from comparing the text with Mark's and Luke's version). Perhaps
          >he will elaborate his reasons.

          I think it is obscure because it is difficult for me to understand.
          How does one explain such a brute fact? ;-)

          More seriously, the plausible Cope interpretation of good=Torah
          requires the acceptance of a certain amount of background knowledge
          that is not apparent from the text, though consistent with it.

          On the Griesbach hypothesis, looking at Luke and Mark's assumed
          use of the Matthean version show that the Torah background/
          understanding was lost on these first century interpreters and
          they struggled to render the pericope more comprehensible. In
          the transmission of the text, the Byzantine scribes also struggled
          with the passage and substituted Luke and Mark's clearer version.
          The lack of clarity is apparent even in modern translations,
          who feel compelled to visit the Lukan and Markan parallels for
          guidance.

          I think there's plenty of evidence supporting the obvious fact
          that the text is difficult to understand. As a supporter of
          Matthean priority, Leonard, you should relish the obscurity of
          the Matthean version, because it should be considered a classic
          instance of a lectio difficilior: it is a text that is prima
          facie difficult to understand and would invite clarification,
          but on deeper reflection is fundamentally coherent after all.

          Stephen Carlson
          --
          Stephen C. Carlson mailto:scarlson@...
          Synoptic Problem Home Page http://www.mindspring.com/~scarlson/synopt/
          "Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs chant the words." Shujing 2.35

          Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
          List Owner: Synoptic-L-Owner@...
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