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Was Rudolf Bultmann's impact on biblical studies generally positive or generally negative?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jesus and the Double-Donkey Dilemma - Le Donne

Ever wonder why your average Palm Sunday service avoids Matthew's version of the story? Here is Matthew 21:
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion: Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
This whole double-donkey thing is a bit awkward to imagine. Was Jesus a rodeo clown? Did he use the short donkey as a footstool, as if enthroned? Of course, imagining this brings us to absurd scenarios. This is why most commentaries stick to "poetic parallelism" to explain this scene.  Zechariah (who Matthew quotes) describes the same beast in parallel verse.  "...on (1) a donkey, and on (2) a colt, the foal of a donkey." So Matthew has literalized the poem and rendered two beasts where there was only one.

But while every commentator will tell you what Matthew has done with Zechariah, few attempt to tell you why he has done it.  In this book, I suggest a possible reason. Keep in mind that the folks at Qumran (collectors/authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls) believed in at least two messiahs: (1) a priestly messiah and (2) a royal messiah.  The Qumranites seem to have used a super-fancy reading of Zechariah 4 to support this belief: "the two sons of anointing".

Could Matthew have been answering those who expected dual messianism by using Zechariah 9?

-anthony

14 comments:

  1. Hmmm...$140? I'll try the local Christian college library first. Speaking of doubling down in Matthew, he does it with the two blind men (instead of one) at the side of the road, and the two Gadarene demoniacs (instead of one). Any connection?

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  2. Is there any ancient text that associates the verse from Zechariah with Genesis 49.11, a verse that could conceivably have also been applied to a messiah figure from Judah? The parallel reference has been suggested to me before, but I don't know enough of how Jacob's prophecies in that chapter were understood.

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  3. I wrote this piece of doggerel the other day about Matthew's double donkey:

    http://thatjeffcarterwashere.blogspot.com/2013/03/biblical-limericks-he-rode-both.html

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    1. funny... well I guess this illustrates the problem with most commentaries. Matthew comes off looking like a dolt, when he might have known exactly what he was doing.

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    2. I'm sure that he did. I just play the buffoon to draw attention to stuff like this...

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  4. I find it interesting to read your last two posts together. So, Jesus arrived in the big city for the big festival, an unknown bearded face in the crowd? What if it was Jesus' goal to become known? Here's one way to do it. (Another good way: commit a capital crime on the Temple mount.)

    I read this scene as literally as one can. I think Jesus rode into town on a donkey and a colt. I mean this with all due respect to my Christian friends and the solemnity of this Palm Sunday, but I bet this scene was funny as, er, heck. I bet that Jesus intended it that way.

    This kind of scene seems oddly in character for Jesus, because on the surface it's obvious what Jesus meant ("in case it isn't clear who I think I am, I'll ride into town on two animals"). But on reflection, the scene is rich with meaning. Is Jesus poking fun at himself, as the hick from the sticks who doesn't get that Zack referred to only one animal? Or is he making a clever comment on the mental wherewithal of the Jerusalemites ("the only way you'll ever recognize who I am is if I make it painfully obvious")?

    Is he poking fun at the Jewish tendency to look for signs and portents? Is he saying, in effect, what could colts and donkeys have to do with messiahship?

    There's the issue of who will appreciate this particular piece of street theater, and who will be annoyed by Jesus' blocking traffic on a main road into the city. Who is the joke on? I can imagine Jerusalemers who figure that Jesus is making fun of Pilate, and Galileans who are trying to keep a straight face knowing that Jesus is making fun of the city folk.

    Anthony, this goes to the idea you presented in the last post: as Jesus enters the City, he brings with him the question, "who do you think I am?"

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  5. It seems to me that the best explanation of the two donkeys will also illuminate the rationale for using similar "doublings" in the gospel of Matthew.

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    1. That's what I was wondering, Anon.

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    2. It seems that we have a double-discontent.

      -anthony

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    3. So are we doubly right or mistaken?

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    4. I have a theory related to the other "doublets" in Matthew... not fully formed yet. Perhaps another day.

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  6. The obvious solution: the donkey was pregnant.

    Chad

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  7. I think Crossan suggests that Matthew portrays Jesus in clear contrast to the chariot and war-horse of Zech 9 by showing that his steed was but a nursing mother. You can picture Jesus riding the donkey in as the colt trails closely behind seeking more milk. Quite an ironic/polemic demonstration for the occasion.

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  8. I've always preferred the Markan version, because my Jesus would never do anything "half-assed." ;)

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