Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Some things you might have missed!

In reading through the passion narratives in the four gospels, it is interesting to note some things that are often overlooked.  If you have spent much time in church, you probably are familiar with the general story: Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey and is received by a triumphant parade.  He cleanses the temple, prays in the Garden, is arrested, tried, convicted, and crucified.  Yet, as in all narrative, the devil is in the details.  Here are a couple of things you might have missed, yet are fascinating in their own right.

How many donkey's does Jesus ride into Jerusalem on? In Mark and Luke, Jesus instructs his disciples to go and get him a colt that had never been ridden.  They do so, and put him on the colt, and he rides triumphantly into Jerusalem.  Yet, in Matthew's gospel, Jesus instructs them to get two donkeys, or more precisely, a donkey, and a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Matthew 21:7 reads:
they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
I actually found this picture which depicts Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, AND on a colt.  It makes for a strange picture, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on two animals.  No wonder it is rare to see the image depicted this way.  Now, surely Matthew is doing this to conform to Zechariah 9:9, the end of which reads:
Lo, your king comes to you;
        triumphant and victorious is he,
    humble and riding on a donkey,
        on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
 Now, Matthew is supposed to be the most Jewish of the gospel writers. How then is he ignorant of the Hebrew poetry in Zechariah and how does he miss the obvious parallelism and instead weave a literal two donkeys into his narrative?  Food for thought.

The next strange passage also comes from Matthew.  Read what happens right after Jesus dies in Matthew's gospel (27:51-53):
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 
In Matthew, Jesus' death brings about a sort of ancient night of the living dead, apparently without all of the gruesome blood and death.  I couldn't even find a picture depicting this scene in Matthew.  So, what do you think is going on here.  I would love comments. 


  1. Could it be that Matthew is correct, that Jesus obtained a donkey and a colt, the foal of a donkey and used both, not that he's actually ignorant of Hebrew poetry? I also kinda think it's funny that we're here, two thousand years later, critiquing his missing the "obvious parallelism" in the poetry of a language that is neither written nor spoken in the same form it was then.

    But if it is historically correct, why didn't the other gospel writers include it? I dunno... Relevance, perhaps? To the others, I don't think whether he had a donkey and a colt or just a donkey was all that relevant.

    As for the other story... That one has puzzled me for a very long time. What do we make of the fact that they appeared to many. Did they talk to the people? Did they just amble about? I kind of always assumed that they appeared and proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus to people, but it doesn't even really say that. It's a little unsettling to think of this passage as The Walking Dead: Heroes of the Faith Edition.

  2. Megan Judd--- Religion 1310November 2, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    Well, Dr. Reich, I don't have much to say about the oddity of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on two separate animals. Maybe the structure of Zechariah was ambiguous to Matthew, which caused the very literal interpretation with two donkeys.

    In regard to the Temple curtains tearing and the dead people rising, I think that is an instance in which Matthew chose to artistically portray the significance of Jesus' death. When the Temple curtain tore,the separation between the common people and the Holy of Holies (a Godly place)was destroyed.
    Just as the gap between the rest of the Temple and the Holy of holies was bridged, Jesus' suffering and sacrifice closed the rift between God's heavenly kingdom and the people here on Earth.