In the whole New Testament, parables of Jesus appear first in Mark's gospel (9). Later, many parables are featured in Matthew's gospel (22) and Luke's gospel (28). The next, and last one, John's gospel, has none.
Besides that, no parables of Jesus are either described or even mentioned in the whole N.T.
2. List of parables:
Legend: * indicates 'explained later on this page or the next one'
A) The Markan parables:
1. *New cloth on an old coat: Mk2:21, Mt9:16, Lk5:36
2. *New wine in old wineskins: Mk2:22, Mt9:17, Lk5:37-38
3. *Sower and the soils: Mk4:3-8,14-20, Mt13:3-8,18-23, Lk8:5-8,11-15
4. *Lamp under a bowl: Mk4:21-23, Mt5:14-16, Lk8:16-17;11:33
5. *Growing seed: Mk4:26-29
6. *Mustard seed: Mk4:30-32, Mt:13:31-32, Lk13:18-19
7. *Tenants and the son: Mk12:1-9, Mt21:33-41,43, Lk20:9-16a
8. *Fig tree: Mk13:28-29, Mt:24:32-35, Lk21:29-31
9. *Watchful servant: Mk13:34-37, Lk12:35-40
B) The "Q" parables:
1. *Wise and foolish builders: Mt7:24-27, Lk6:47-49
2. *Yeast: Mt13:33, Lk13:20-21
3. *Lost sheep: Mt18:12-13, Lk15:4-6
4. *The great or wedding banquet: Mt22:2-14, Lk14:16-24
5. *Faithful and wise servants: Mt24:45-51, Lk12:42-48
6. *Talents (minas): Mt25:14-30, Lk19:12-27
C) The Matthean parables:
1. *The weeds: Mt13:24-30,37-43
2. Hidden treasure: Mt13:44
3. Valuable pearl: Mt13:45-46
4. *Net: Mt13:47-50
5. Owner of the house: Mt13:52
6. Unmerciful servant: Mt18:23-34
7. Workers in a vineyard: Mt20:1-16
8. Two sons: Mt21:28-32
9. Ten virgins: Mt25:1-13
D) The Lukan parables:
1. *Moneylender: Lk7:41-43
2. *Good Samaritan: Lk10:30-37
3. Friend in need: Lk11:5-8
4. *Rich fool: Lk12:16-21
5. Unfruitful fig tree: Lk13:6-9
6. Lowest seat at the feast: Lk14:7-14
7. Cost of discipleship: Lk14:28-33
8. Lost coin: Lk15:8-10
9. Lost (prodigal) son: Lk15:11-32
10. *Shrewd manager: Lk16:1-8
11. Rich man and Lazarus: Lk16:19-31
12. Master and his servant: Lk17:7-10
13. Persistent widow: Lk18:2-8
14. Pharisee and tax collector: Lk18:10-14
3. What is a parable?
Definition 1: Allegory, with a moral (or theological, or prophetic) message.
Definition 2: Name given originally by Greek rhetoricians to a literary illustration. In the New Testament, it signifies a short, fictitious narrative, designed to suggest a "truth" through interpretation.
4. The purpose of parables in Mark's gospel:
The 'parable of Jesus' genre is introduced by "Mark" as follows:
Mk4:2 "He taught them [the crowd] many things by parables, and in his teaching said:"
Jesus is said to have taught to the crowds by parables. But next, it appears this teaching to them is rather superficial:
Mk4:33-34 "And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples."
Jesus is said to speak to crowds only in parables and to give explanations to his entourage. They are certainly very necessary for understanding:
Mk4:13 "Then Jesus said to them, "Don't you understand that parable? how then will you understand any parable?""
Mk7:17b-18a "... his disciples asked him about this parable. "Are you so dull?" he asked. ..."
"When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been
given to you. But
to those on the outside everything is said in parables
so that, "'they may be ever seeing but not perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.'"
So according to GMark, Jesus' compatriots (except his followers) were not supposed to perceive/understand the parables (only hear them), and since Jesus taught to them only in parables, they did not have the opportunity to be saved (or knowing the secret of the kingdom of God).
Only two Jesus' explanations of parable (to his followers only) are written in the gospel (Mk4:14-20,22). Then, in order to understand the saving message and the secret of the Kingdom, the Christians (in the community where the gospel appeared) had to get the interpretation of the (other) parables.
But by whom? Jesus and the apostles were not here anymore. In the best position to do so were the early Christian presbyters, and even better, the one who wrote (anonymously) the gospel.
If the (unexplained and obscure) parables were of no value for the crowds addressed by Jesus, the author thought they were very relevant for his Christian audience, as we will see next.
5. The nine Markan parables explained:
The first two parables appear to relate to John the Baptist & the Pharisees fellowship, because they are right after the following passage:
Mk2:18-19 "Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, "How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?" Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.
[whenever Jesus is here, (forever, according to Mk8:31,9:31,10:34,40,16:6) never mind what the disciples of John or the Pharisees tell you!]""
A) New cloth on an old coat:
Mk2:21 "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse."
The new piece may be Jesus (or/and message/gospel) and the old garment could be John the Baptist (dead and buried!) or/and (Pharisaic) Judaism.
B) New wine in old wineskins:
Mk2:22 "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.
[the conclusion stresses the preservation of the "new wine" in its proper place, and not into old wineskins. No old wine is mentioned]"
The new wine is Jesus (Mk14:23-25) (or/and message/gospel); the old wineskins might refer to some John's (or/and Jewish) theological confinement. According to the NIV Study Bible, as part of a note on the same verse: "Jesus brings a newness that cannot be confined within the old forms."
Note: the version of the two parables in GLuke clearly turns things around: "the old is better"
Lk5:36-39 "He told them this parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.
[this new patch is not right for mending the old garment]
` And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, `The old is better.'"
This proves that "Luke" did not have any scruples about manipulating a parable extracted from GMark. But why?
In 'Acts', "Luke" is a staunch supporter of Paul and consequently would be against any unPauline (new) Christian teaching. See more about Luke's coloring in "The great omission in Luke's gospel".
Luke's community was probably warned against new Christian teaching: keep the old one, it is better! Then "No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins" gets a different meaning: take that new unwanted stuff somewhere else (that is not into our community)!
C) Lamp under a bowl:
Mk4:21-23 "Also He said to them, "Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? ...""
[part of the explanation in the gospel:]
` For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.
[Paul in 1Co4:5 "... He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness ..."]"
This indicates, in my view, that "Mark" did not intend to have his gospel be one of mysteries.
The "mysteries" in GMark are due to:
a) The author had to deal with "down to earth" testimonies about Jesus, with embarrassing statements (2:23, 3:21, 6:2-3,5a, 8:15, 9:10, 10:11-14,21, 15:26-27, etc.) and noticeable "silences" from eyewitness(es) (5:43, 8:21,30, 9:9-10,32, etc.), very hard to reconcile with the emerging Christian christology & theology. Furthermore, "inspired" testimonies & preaching
(1Co7:10-11 > Mk10:9-12, 1Co11:23-25 > Mk:14:22-24,
1Co15:51 > Mk9:1, 1Co15:35 > Mk12:25,
1Th4:15-17&1Co15:51-52 > Mk13:26-27,
1Th5:3 > Mk13:8 b, Heb1:9b >Mk14:3,
Heb5:7 > Mk14:35-36, Heb2:18,4:15 > Mk1:12-13,
Heb9:15b > Mk10:45b, Ro13:1,6-7 > Mk12:14-17,
Ro13:9b-10 > Mk12:31, etc.)
and the ones of "false" apostles (Mk7:33-35,8:22-26, etc.) and Jewish Christians (Mk7:26-28,14:25, "son of man", etc.), believed also by some, had to be integrated.
b) The author was addressing a divided community (1Co3:3-4,6:7,11:18-19, etc.), in time of crisis (see next parables), with different beliefs/disbeliefs, problems and doubts (1Co15:12,29 etc.). On many points, the author was vague, tentative, obscure and clumsy in supplying "solutions" (Mk15:42-45,16:1-8, etc.), through the alleged words of Jesus or events not witnessed (such as the "transfiguration"). Some controversial issues were avoided, such as Jesus' origin.
c) No other gospel was available to draw from, to use as a reference and to "improve" upon.
Back to our parable of the lamp under a bowl:
The lamp probably illustrated Jesus' message (as in GMark and its parables). One should make sure to set it at the right place in order to be enlightened by it:
Heb10:32a "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, ..."
Paul in 2Co4:3-4 "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age
[did Paul believe in some anti-God (Satan) ruling the world then? Very likely:
Ro16:20a "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet."]
` has blinded the mind of unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the gospel [as preached by Paul] of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."
2Co4:6 "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
Note: Paul's genuine letters (Ro, 1Co, 2Co, Gal, Php, 1Th, Phm) and "Hebrews", notwithstanding later editing & additions, were written about fifteen years before GMark.
This is the "Q" explanation:
Lk11:34 " Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness."
Another explanation by "Matthew" (Mt5:15b-16):
"and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light [as a Christian] so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."
Then again, a different explanation by "Luke":
Lk11:36 "Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you."
Same parable, different interpretations!
The next three parables feature seed(s) and part of their purpose might be to suggest a long time (delay in the arrival of the kingdom of God; exception: the mustard seed) between the seeding and full maturity of the plant(s). The seed(s) also illustrated the small beginning of the Christian message from Jesus and/or the apostles:
Paul in 1Co3:3 "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase."
and in 1Co9:10b-11 "... Sharing of the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much we reap a material harvest from you?"
D) The mustard seed:
Mk4:30-32 "Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.
[allusion to the smallness of the initial Christian message]
` Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants,
[from a very little beginning, something unexpectantly large can develop (such as Christian faith & set of belief and a Christian community). Also, let's note here that the mustard plant is considered a garden plant cultivated for obvious reason, and not a weed]
` with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade [a home for Christians]."
The imagery is obviously borrowed from:
Ez17:23 "On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell."
and, most likely,
Seneca (3 B.C.E.-65 C.E.), epistles 38:2:
"Words would be scattered like seed: no matter how small the seed may be [the mustard seed!], if it once has found favorable ground, it unfolds its strength and from an insignificant thing spreads to its greatest growth"
In Mt13:32 and Lk13:19, the plant becomes "a tree". Is that enough to imply an original "Q" counterpart?
Lk13:18-19 "Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to [very similar with Mk4:30]? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched [also translated as "roosted"] in its branches"
A "Q" writer might have thought that a plant (black mustard), even if it grows up to almost four feet tall, is rather fragile and unlikely to be used as a perch or a roosting place for birds. Therefore, this author dispensed with the botanical details of "Mark" and replaced the frail plant by a more appropriate (solid, tall and long-lasting) tree (as in Ez17:23 quoted earlier). Furthermore a tree requires many years to grow ("illustrating" the delay in the arrival of the Kingdom), when the plant matures (and dies) in only one season.
In conclusion, the mustard seed parable in GMark presented serious flaws and was rewritten by a "Q" author. He knew about Mark's version because the mustard seed was kept, even if there was no need to feature that particular seed. As a matter of fact, any tree seed would have been a lot more appropriate.
Now let's examine the "mustard seed" parable in GMatthew.
"Matthew" combined Mark's original version with the "Q" one (Lk13:19):
Mt13:31-32 "He told them another parable: "the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, [not according to modern knowledge!] yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.""
In Matthew's community (Antioch), it seems the "Q" version and Mark's one had equal credibility.
More about "Q" here
E) Growing seed:
Mk4:26-29 "He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain - first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.""
The harvester is definitively Jesus of the second coming (Mk13:26) and the Christians are the crop.
The parable probably suggests that Jesus
did not have to stay on earth after planting
the seed (his gospel):
"whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed ... grows"
Also here, it is hinted that Christianity developed in a way that Jesus would not have known ("he does not know how"), such as spreading among Gentiles or inspired by the Holy Spirit:
This parable is partly redundant with the next one (and possibly too "telling"), and "Luke" decided not to include it. And, as we will see later, "Matthew" considerably changed it.
Note: occurrences of 'Holy Spirit' in the gospels and 'Acts':
- In the alleged account of Jesus' life, the four gospels: Mk = 4, Mt = 5, Lk = 12, Jn = 4
- In the alleged account of the beginning of Christianity, after Jesus' crucifixion: Ac = 42
F) Sower and the soils:
Mk4:3-8 "... a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched [reference to persecutions; see later], and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.
[Heb6:8a "But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless"]
` But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.
[the yield is grossly exaggerated but reminiscent of Ge26:12-13a "Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, ..."]"
The interpretation (allegedly given by Jesus to his followers):
Mk4:13-20 "And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?
[the crowds were not given any explanation!]
` The sower [an apostle] sows the word [the gospel]. And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan
[a traditional rural Jew from Palestine would not believe in Satan]
` comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, immediately they stumble.
[allusion of early Christians denying their faith when put to the test]
` Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
[about Gentiles not getting converted because they prefer to enjoy "worldly" life]
` But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.
[about the establishment of early Christian communities and the growth of their members]"
Let's compare this with:
a) Paul in 1Co3:9b "you are God's field"
b) Paul in 2Co9:10-11a "Now he [God] who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way ..."
c) Paul in Ro1:13 "... I planned many times to come to you ... , in order that I might have a harvest among you, ..."
d) Heb12:10b-11 "... God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
e) Seneca (3 B.C.E.-65 C.E.), epistles 38:2 "Words would be scattered like seed: ... if it once has found favorable ground, it unfolds its strength and ... spreads to its greatest growth"
Finally, it would have been very difficult for Jesus' disciples to understand what he was talking about: this limited explanation is related to future events. However it provided a reassuring explanation under the form of a disguised prophecy for any Christian, who had doubts about his/her new faith because others were rejecting it.
Here starts 'dating the gospels, internal evidence'.
The end will be indicated.
Propagation of the "word", tribulation, persecution and creation of Christian communities led to 70C.E.: no Kingdom yet, but the destruction of Jerusalem & its temple:
Mk13:2 "And Jesus answered and said to him, "Do you see these great buildings [in Jerusalem]? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
Josephus' Wars, VII, I, 1: "Caesar [Titus, in 70C.E.] gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple ...
[before the command for total demolition, the Romans had already (fully) burned the temple and (at least partially) the city. Furthermore, if the defenders would have surrendered early on, the city would have been spared, as it was Roman policy during this campaign (as gathered from Josephus' Wars)]
` but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind."
Josephus' Wars, VIII, VIII, 7: "Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations, ... that holy city demolished by the hands of our enemies, or the foundations of our holy temple dug up after so profane a manner."
Jerusalem, the former home of the "saints" (the "Nazarenes" and their followers) had been thought to become the future capital of the Kingdom (as believed by Jewish Christians; see "HJ-3b"). But the city got thoroughly destroyed and with it, hundred(s) of thousand of Jews. And no Messiah to be seen! It had to be explained:
G) The tenants and the son:
Mk12:1-9 "He then began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it,
[the walls of Jerusalem and/or its temple]
` dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower.
[the Antonia tower (a tall fortress occupied by the Roman garrison) above the temple. Sometimes referred in Josephus' Wars as just "the tower". The imagery is borrowed from Isa5:2-3 (but no wall here!): "He [God] dug it up and cleared out its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, And also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard."]
` Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers [priests of the temple] and went away on a journey [God not watching over things]. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them, they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed.
[and still no reaction from the owner! I would not want to be in the sandals of the remaining servants]
` He sent many others, some of them they beat, others they killed.
[the O.T. does not have any prophetic material about this. However, "Q" did remedy to that:
Lk13:34a "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you ..."
Lk11:49b "... 'I [God] will send them prophets ... some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute ...'"]
` He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved [God sending his Son, Jesus]. He sent him last of all, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
[after what happened to the servants, that does not make sense. And in many parables, the realism of the illustration is sacrificed for theological purpose. This parable, like most others in GMark, was not meant as a teaching tool, but as an alleged prophecy]
` But the tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir.'
["his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things" (Heb1:2)]
` Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours
[law of the jungle? Totally unrealistic, but theologically correct!]
` So they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.
[Jesus' crucifixion and denial by the Jews of Jerusalem]
` What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants
[the tenants did not think of that! Allusion of the holocaust of 70C.E., God using the Romans, a common idea:
Josephus' Wars, VI, II, 1 "And are not both the city and the entire temple now full of the dead bodies of your countrymen? It is God, therefore, it is God himself who is bringing on this fire, to purge that city and temple by means of the Romans",
as before he would have employed the Babylonians (Jer25:8-9, Hab1:5-11).
Here is the main purpose of the parable: explaining the destruction of Jerusalem when Jesus was thought by many Christians to be the Messiah who, at least, should have protected his own people. Providing an explanation for this catastrophic event caused, in part, the writing of the gospel]
` and give the vineyard to others.
[allusion to the Christian presbyters positioning themselves to be the successors of the temple priests. Well explained in Mt21:41, at the end of the same parable, ""He will bring those wretches to a wretched end," they [the chief priests and elders] replied, "and he will rent his vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.""]"
Let's compare this with Paul in 1Co3:16:
"Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"
Of course this parable would have been of little benefit for Jesus' audience in the temple (most of them were dead before 66-70)!
Note: the theme of the parable is God avenging the Son by "kill ['apollumi' = destroy] those tenants". The next step is to explain why, from a Christian perspective, most people caught in the holy city got executed by the Romans. So it should not be surprising GMark has a Jewish mob forcing Pilate to send Jesus to the cross (Mk15:6-15):
Mk15:13-15 ""Crucify him!" they shouted. "Why? What crimes has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucified him!". Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate
[Pilate and the Romans are not held responsible for Jesus' crucifixion]
` ... handed him over to be crucified."
Of course, any impromptu outdoors so-called trial with the shouts of the mob determining the outcome is totally unrealistic and absurd, and a mockery of the Roman justice system.
But even worse is the featuring of a certain "man called Barabbas" who "was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising." (Mk15:7)
From Josephus, who certainly would have written about it, there is no account of any insurrection or uprising anytime in Jerusalem during that period (8-46C.E.). Not even Sicarii or Zealots committing murders anywhere in Palestine are reported during that time. Consequently, this Barabbas, "son of the father" in Aramaic, likely personifies the future revolutionaries: after they took control of Jerusalem, they resisted the Romans to the bitter end, causing the total destruction of the city in 70C.E.
Then "Now, it was the custom at the feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested." (Mk15:6)
Nor the Romans, neither anyone else, had the custom to release a major criminal or rebel during a regular event. That would be stupid and dangerous. As I have shown in "HJ-3a", the same Romans were anxious to crucify or decapitate any rebel, criminal or even suspect, and as soon as possible. Therefore, Barabbas and the other insurrectionists languishing in prison is also an absurd proposition. And, as we are led to believe, the mob is given a choice to release Barabbas or Jesus, through an otherwise unknown (and stupid!) custom. Of course, they "save" the fictitious Barabbas!
Symbolically, that was explaining why the people of Jerusalem were killed, more than forty years later: they chose the Zealots and rejected Jesus, God's Son.
Consequently, it is clear that the Jerusalem mob's alleged involvement in the so-called trial (following the Jewish leaders' one through an expedited (highly unrealistic) Sanhedrin and priests' inquisition (Mk14:53,55,15:1) during the night!) were not meant to be anti-Semitism, but part of an attempt to explain the holocaust in the holy city."... Sanhedrin Holding Court on Passover Eve: This was definitely illegal and unnecessary. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.1k says a conviction can only be given a day after the trial in capital cases (also 5.5a), and for this reason it specifically says no trial of a capital case can occur on the eve of a Sabbath or a Festival (because court cannot go back in session on such a day). Likewise, 4.1j explicitly says that capital cases can only be tried during the day (in explicit contrast with property cases which must begin during the day but can end at night). There is no intelligible reason why these procedures would have been violated for Jesus." Richard Carrier
Then, according to the "mini-apocalypse" in Mk13:14-27, after God's alleged revenge for the killing of the Son, the long awaited kingdom of God would come soon:
"When you [the "you" would normally stands for four disciples, including Peter (13:3). Maybe "Mark" thought they had been in Jerusalem and still alive then!]
` see `the abomination that causes desolation'
[Daniel 9:27&11:31: here these words stand for an event associated with "destroy the city [Jerusalem, according to 9:25] and the sanctuary" (9:26), "put an end to sacrifice and offering" (9:27), and "armed forces ... desecrate the temple fortress ... abolish the daily sacrifice ..." (11:31)
Remark: Jews were also thinking 'Daniel' prophesied the desolation of Judea & Jerusalem by the Romans. According to Josephus' Ant., X, XI, 7 "In the very same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them."]
` standing where it does not belong
[the Roman legions, with their emblems (with human & boar representations), in the heartland of Judea. At the same location in its mini-apocalypse, GLuke "interprets" Mark's verse (13:14) about the "abomination of desolation" as such "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near." (Lk21:20)]
` -- let the reader understand,
[Jesus talking to readers, above the head of the disciples, as in the parables? A slip of the pen from "Mark"?]
` -- then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
[and not take refuge inside Jerusalem where most perished!]
` ... , because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now
[another slip of the pen! The "now" (instead of "then") could not have been spoken some forty years before the events and clearly indicates when the gospel was written. Let's notice the difference from the passage in 'Daniel' that "Mark" loosely copied:
Da12:1 "... There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until THEN [in the future] ..."]
` -- and never to be equaled again..
["Mark" was describing the destruction of Jerusalem as a major apocalyptic event, the worse catastrophe since the creation (worst than the big flood!), a sure sign of the coming of the Kingdom!]
` If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen,
[here, the chosen ones are alive after the destruction of Jerusalem. So the reference is not about the Jews killed in 70C.E. or the people of Jesus' generation, most of them dead by then!]
` he has shortened them ...
[the great salvation was supposed to happen very soon after the destruction of Jerusalem]
` At that time [the one of Jerusalem destruction, not 20 years later!] if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect --if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
[right after the very disturbing news of Jerusalem destruction (buildings and people) reached the community, among Jews and Christians (false) vengeful christs and/or prophets were bound to appear, attracting members of the flock by their fiery rhetoric. Those later ones had to be persuaded to stay! And, as a confirmation, "Mark" wrote, right after referring to the demolition of large buildings in Jerusalem (13:1-2) and at the very beginning of the momentous 'End of the age/mini-apocalypse' sermon, about impersonators of a (returning & resurrected) Jesus:
13:5-6 Darby "And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any one mislead you. For many shall come in my name, saying, It is *I*, and shall mislead many."
Let's also note, according to the 'Corinthians' letters, the Christians there were prone to change allegiance and flock to other "gurus" very quickly!]
` But in those days [days, not even years!], following that distress, 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.""
Note: the last part is very reminiscent of Paul in 1Th4:16-17:
"The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. ..."
After having waited so long (Paul in 1Co7:29a "What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short ..." and 1Co7:31b "... For this world in his present form is passing away" and Co15:51 "... we will not all sleep [be dead, when the kingdom of God comes] ..." and Ro13:11b "The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed."), the Christians had to be reassured on how soon, after the 'abomination of desolation', the second coming will occur:
H) The fig tree:
Mk13:28-29 "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near; at the door!"
The parable suggests that, soon after the disasters of 70C.E., no more than weeks or months later, Christians should expect the arrival of the Kingdom.
Note: I do not see any hint that the fig tree here or in other places (Mk11:13,20) would represent Israel. Explanations in "HJ-3a", Section 21.
And following the fig tree parable:
Mk13:32a,33 "No one knows about that day or hour [not year!] ... Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come."
Notice the urgency! Rather hard to imagine Jesus exhorting his disciples to become extremely vigilant some forty years later. Once again, these directives appear issued to Christians when the gospel was written.
I) Watchful servant:
Mk13:34-37 "It is like a man going to a far country,
[Jesus gone to heaven. Man or owner travelling away is a recurring element in many parables, as we saw already (12:1)]
` who left his house and gave authority to his servants [Christian presbyters], and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper [Christians] to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming; in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning; lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.
[once again, no realism: the doorkeeper has got to sleep! But again theologically correct]
` And what I say to you, I say to all:
[the "you" are the four disciples, the "all" stands for the Christians in 70/71C.E.! Once again "Mark" got carried away]
Let's compare this with:
Paul in 1Th5:2 "For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night."
1Th5:6 "... let us be alert ..."
Here we are:
EITHER, if the gospel was completed earlier than 70, Jesus predicted rightly the fall of Jerusalem but was wrong about the second coming to follow very soon afterwards. But if Jesus was a divinely inspired prophet, he would not have been wrong on the second part.
OR "Mark" wrote after the events of 70C.E. (& putting a "sure" prophecy in Jesus' mouth!), but before "the day of the Lord" he predicted to happen promptly afterwards (but it did not!). Also, if written later than 71, the author would have avoided saying “the day of the Lord” will come soon after 70 (which is what “Matthew” and “Luke” did!).
As I showed already, all indications point to the second option.
Let's ask ourselves: could the gospel be completed one hundred, fifty, twenty, or even one year after the tragedy in Judea became known in Mark's city?
If it was so, then the local Christians would wonder why the Kingdom did not come already:
Was Jesus wrong? Was the gospel author a liar?
"Mark" certainly did not want any of these questions answered by "yes" when his gospel was made public!
A) Those apocalyptic events were predicted to happen before:
Mk9:1 "... , some who are standing here [some 40 years earlier, in Jesus' times!] will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."
B) As already explained in HJ-2a, HJ-2b & HJ-3a, "Mark" had to address eyewitness(es)' "against the grain" reports, duly noted silences on critical points and lack of prior attestations (i.e. on crucial stories generated by the author!).
Because those testimonies were still remembered by his community. If it was not the case, why create problems & raise doubts!
Here is an abbreviated list of items where "Mark" tried to counteract the embarrassment (E) or explain the silence (S):
a) Disciples NOT saying Jairus' daughter was resurrected (5:42-43) (S)
b) Rejection of Jesus in his own village (6:2-4) (E)
c) Disciples NOT "seeing" the miraculous feeding(s) (8:17-21) (S)
d) Disciples NOT considering "walking on/by the sea" or/and the following stoppage of the wind as divine miracle(s) (6:52) (S)
e) Disciples NOT claiming Jesus was Christ (8:29-30) (S)
f) Peter NOT comprehending (as a Christian would) Jesus' Passion (8:31-33, 9:31-32) (E)
g) Disciples NOT telling about the events on the high mountain (9:9-10) (S)
h) Disciples NOT knowing what is meant by resurrection (9:10,31-32) (E)
i) Disturbance in the temple (11:17) (E)
j) Peter saying Jesus cursed at a fig tree (11:21-24) (E)
k) Disciples falling away after Jesus' arrest (14:27) (E)
l) Disciples NOT knowing about the empty tomb and Jesus' rising (16:8) (S)Note: the subsequent gospels eliminated some (GMatthew), more (GLuke) or most (GJohn) of these items, one way or another (deletion, "correction" or addition). How to explain their author could do it?C) Also it has been suggested:
Either enough time went by, causing the (oral) "testimonies" to be forgotten, or the author's community was never visited by any eyewitness(es).
Mk13:7 "When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come."
meant a long delay (such as 20 years!) was anticipated between the Jewish wars (66-70C.E.) and "the end". But the whole of Mk13:5-13 is alleged prophecies about events happening before the fall of Jerusalem (at Mk13:14). And of course, the predicted wars, "earthquakes in various places", "famines" (that was only "the beginning of birth pains" Mk13:8b) together with arrests, propagation of the gospel among Gentiles, persecutions and betrayals did occur during that period!
Then, the "abomination that causes desolation" (Mk13:14) leads to the conquest and destruction of the city (70C.E.), the start of "the days of distress" (Mk13:19) and soon after, "in those days" (Mk13:24), the second coming (Mk13:26).
D) Could Mk13:5-23 refer to the 70-135 period, ending by the second Jewish war and the defeat of Bar Kokhba?
That's rather out-of-question because:
a) the later events (at least one hundred after Jesus' crucifixion) can hardly fit into the time frame of the verse quoted in A) and also the one in Mk13:30 (which also appears in GMatthew (24:34) and GLuke (21:32) "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation [the one of Jesus] will by no means pass away till all things [among them, Jerusalem's destruction (21:20-24) and the second coming (21:25:28)] take place."
b) Mk13:3-4 specifies Jesus' alleged answer (Mk13:5-23) is an explanation related to the prophesied destruction, stone by stone, of great buildings in Jerusalem (Mk13:1-2) (and not to events which will happen in the following 65 years (up to 135)!):
Mk13:1-5a "Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!" And Jesus answered and said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down ." Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign [Mk13:14; before: endure and do not be alarmed] when all these things will be fulfilled?" And Jesus, answering them, began to say: ... [the mini-apocalypse monologue 13:5-37 starts here]"
Also, the destruction related in Mk13:1-2 happened in 70:
From Josephus' Wars (Josephus was an eyewitness to Jerusalem demise!):
VII, I, 1 "Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple"
VII, I, 1 "there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to"
VII, VII, 7 "It is now demolished to the very foundations, and hath nothing but that monument of it preserved, I mean the camp of those that hath destroyed it, which still dwells upon its ruins; some unfortunate old men also lie upon the ashes of the temple, and a few women are there preserved alive by the enemy, for our bitter shame and reproach"
Epiphanius, On weights and measures 14-15 "Hadrian [in 129-130] found the temple of God throdden down and the whole city devastated, save for a few houses"
but not in 135: there is no evidence of reconstruction (after 70) of large buildings (and therefore subsequent destructions) on the site of Jerusalem before the defeat of Bar Kokhba.
c) "Luke" included, in his/her version of the mini-apocalypse of GMark, evidenced historical details pertaining to the events of 70, such as Lk21:21b,24 and:
Lk21:20 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.", also in Marcion's gospel (written 140 +-10 years), and corresponding to Mk13:14 "abomination of desolation".
Furthermore, there is no evidence that Jerusalem was besieged by Roman armies in 135. Also, the rebel Jews were unlikely to make a stand at Jerusalem, then an unwalled fully destroyed city with no natural defense on the northern side. Besides, the "desolation is near", that is not inflicted yet (in 135, it would be 65 years old!).
See also Lk21:21b&24. Details about the dating of GMatthew & GLuke to follow ...
What about the dating of the other gospels?
Let's start by comparing:
Mk13:19a "Pray that will not take place in winter, because those will be days [those of the siege & destruction of Jerusalem] of distress unequaled from the beginning..."
Mt24:21a "For then ["at that time", unspecified in duration, and not accounted in "days" & related to a season as in Mk13:19a] there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning ..."
It seems "Matthew" (cleverly) modified GMark in order to allow a long period for the "great distress".
And as far as Luke's gospel is concerned:
Lk21:24 "They [the Jews in Jerusalem] will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations [as in Josephus' Wars, VI, IX, published 78C.E.]. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
After the destruction of Jerusalem, there will be "times of the Gentiles" (duration unspecified) before the day of the Lord.
A) For the dating of Matthew's gospel, I gave already some details on
this page, explaining it was written when Pharisees
were turning into rabbis/leaders of the Jewish
communities (around 85-95).
Here are more pieces of evidence:
a) "Immediately after the distress of those days" (Mt24:29a):
The great distress of the Jews (following the disastrous events of 70C.E.) is generally considered to have lasted up to around 85-90C.E. At that time, Judaism was reorganized by well esteemed Pharisaic rabbis (Mt5:20a,23:2-3a,7; Josephus Ant., XVIII, I, 3).
Note: "Matthew" did not call Jerusalem siege & destruction in 70C.E. a time of distress, as "Mark" did.
b) For a post 70C.E. dating, a blatant insertion in a "Q" parable:
Mt22:6-7 "The rest [of those invited by the king for his son's wedding banquet] seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.
[very similar to Mk12:3-5, 'the parable of the tenants'. But here, the royal servants are killed by the people they invite: very unrealistic!]
` The king was enraged. He sent his army [no army is mentioned in the 'tenants' parable] and destroyed those murderers [as in Mk12:9a, same 'tenants' parable] and burned their city [Jerusalem]."
c) Also in GMark, the calamities do not include eruptions of volcano: the disastrous destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum occurred in 79C.E., caused by Vesuvius (as a furnace) ejecting ashes, pumice and fumes. But GMatthew features the hellish "fiery furnace" twice (Mt13:42,50). A coincidence?
d) Mk13:10 "And the gospel must first be preached to all nations." (prior to Jerusalem destruction --13:14)
"Matthew" added on:
Mt24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."
Now the end is coming after the whole world has been exposed to the gospel, and not only subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem!
e) Mt16:28 RSV "Truly, I say to you [Jesus' disciples (16:24a)], there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom [on earth, second coming: see Mt6:10&26:31-46]."
The Kingdom was still expected to come before the end of the first century.
f) Parts of the ending of GMatthew were likely added later: click here for more info.
B) For the dating of
(and 'Acts'), more details are available on
this page, where I expose "Luke" knew about Josephus' Wars (78C.E.) but NOT about his 'Antiquities' (93C.E.).
I want to add up:
GLuke does carry from GMark (9:1 & 13:30) the following:
a) Lk9:27 RSV "But I tell you truly, there are some standing here [Jesus' disciples (9:18)] who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God." (as also in Mt16:28)
b) Lk21:32 "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation [the one of Jesus] will by no means pass away till all things take place." (as also in Mt24:34)
The "things", according to what precedes, include the destruction of Jerusalem (21:20-24) and the second coming (21:25-28).
It seems here (& Lk9:27) the gospel could not have been written as late as the second century. Furthermore, in Marcion's gospel (written around 140), as alluded by Tertullian (Adv.Marc.iv.39), Lk21:32 was replaced by "... heaven and earth shall not pass away till all things be fulfilled.", taking away the mention of Jesus' generation!
c) Contrary to appearances (in Lk17:21), there is no realized eschatology in GLuke (see here).
c) GJohn would confirm a first century dating for GLuke. More next ...
C) But what about John's gospel?
Here, the events of 70C.E. are not described at all and there is nothing about a Kingdom to come soon.
a) The "Last Judgment" (by the Son of God himself!) is to happen when Jesus' contemporaries are dead:
Jn5:24-29 "I tell you the truth, whoever hear my word ... has eternal life and will not be condemned ... he has crossed over from death to life ... I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. ... And he [the Father] has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."
Jn6:39-40 "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
Jn6:54 "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
b) There are three references in the gospel about Jesus' followers/Christians booted out of synagogues:
Jn16:1-2a "All this I [Jesus] have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue;"
This may be a reference to the efforts of Gamaliel II around 90C.E. However the evictions might have started locally even earlier:
"According to Berakhot 28b, Samuel ha Katan (fl. c. 80-110), at the invitation of Gamaliel II of Jabneh, composed the 'benediction against the minim,' included in the Amidah as the twelfth benediction (see E. J. Bickerman, in HTR, 55 (1962), 171, n. 35). This was directed primarily against Judeo-Christians (specifically mentioned in one old text-see Schechter, JQR 10 (1897/98)), either to keep them out of the synagogue or to proclaim a definite breach between the two religions."
(Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 12, p. 3)
"Birkat ha Minim (benediction 12), introduced in Jabneh by Samuel ha Katan, at the request of Rabban Gamaliel II, enlarged on the meaning of a previously known benediction, as Shel Paroshin ("concerning the dissidents") or Shel Resha'im ("concerning the wicked"). He did this by applying it specifically to Jewish heretics. It is generally assumed that this new formulation was meant to force the Judeo-Christians out of the Jewish community; in the Genizah version, the word Nozerim ("Christians") actually occurs."
(Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 2, pp. 841 - 842)
c) The gospel features the very odd "My Lord and my God!" (Jn21:28b). Nowhere else in the gospels Jesus is referred as "God" or "my God". But it was the title by which the infamous emperor Domitian (81-96C.E.) was called:
Suetonius (69-122), Roman historian, 'The Lives of the Caesars', Book VIII, Domitian XIII:
"With no less arrogance he [Domitian, early in his reign] began as follows in issuing a circular letter in the name of his procurators, "Our Lord and our God [Latin: 'Dominus et Deus noster'] bids that this be done." And so the custom arose of henceforth addressing him in no other way even in writing or in conversation."
d) Jn12:1-8 is a conflation of Lk10:38-42 (at the home of "Martha" and her sister "Mary"), Mk14:3-8 (anointment in "Bethany" with "pure nard", an "expensive perfume") and Lk7:36-38 (on the feet with wiping from the woman's hair).
This and many other items show that "John" knew about GMark (first), and (afterwards) GLuke (and later 'Acts'). More details in John's gospel, from original to canonical
e) In the epilogue (Jn21), "the disciple whom he loved" (Jn19:26), likely referring to presbyter John (the author of 'Revelation' around 95C.E.), had just died as the (alleged) last known Jesus' disciple:
Jn21:20-24a "Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. ... When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?" This is the disciple who testifies to these things ..."
If the disciple was a young adult in 30C.E., that would make him around ninety years old in 100, a very old age for these times. Irenaeus, a late 2nd century Christian, related in 'Against Heresies', II, that he "lived till Trajan's times [98-117]". Some Christians thought he was kept alive (because he was "the disciple whom Jesus loved") in order to witness the second coming, fulfilling Mk9:1 & Mk13:30 prophecies.
Here ends 'the dating of the gospels, internal evidence'.
6. The parables and "Mark":
As we saw, most of these parables (if not all) make a lot more sense in a latter Christian environment than in Jesus' context. No wonder "Mark" indicated that the parables were not meant to be understood by Jesus' audience ! And his own disciples would not figure them out by themselves either!
But then, how to explain Jesus taking the trouble to issue messages in a form (parables) useless for saving his country folks?
Why would the people not be asking for clarifications (as Jesus' followers in Mk4:10) or not getting them?
Why would the rural folks tolerate a steady stream of obscure stories, unrealistic propositions or gibberish unrelated to their time & context? And from someone who was like them, not educated?
It simply does not make any sense!
Therefore, it is very likely that the nine parables were designed by the author of the gospel. "Mark" used the parable genre mainly to have Jesus prophesied (situations and events, up to 70C.E!) above the head of his contemporaries, on matters of the greatest concern for his Christian community, such as:
- Interference from latter followers of John the Baptist (and of Pharisees)
- Jesus not being on earth to propagate the gospel
- Christian message being rejected or abandoned by many
- Delay in the arrival of the Kingdom
- The destruction of Jerusalem, its temple, people & priests
The Christian flock was being reassured that these upsetting events (including the last and most disturbing one: the "desolation") had been predicted (Mk13:23b
"I have told you everything ahead of time") and were part of a God's plan. That would cause the believers to keep the faith (and consequently be saved!), at a most crucial time, when the second coming was allegedly due to happen very soon:
Mk13:30 "I tell you the truth, this generation [the one of Jesus] will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
[according to Mk13:5-27, various events, including earthquakes, famines, wars, persecutions, then the destruction of Jerusalem in 70C.E. and finally the second coming]"
With the understanding of the parables, the Christians would learn "the secret of the Kingdom of God":
An extended and arduous path strewn with the unexpected, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." (Mk13:13b)
Here is one more example in Mark's gospel where Jesus is said to be talking to the crowds in parable:
Mk7:14-19 "When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: there is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man ..."
[the so-called parable is obviously very vague and not meant to be understood. At Mk7:5, "things that defile" are from unwashed hands, with no further details]
` When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all food?"
[the NU-Text reads, (as a comment from "Mark"): "(This means all foods are clean.)", instead of the words in italics (by allegedly Jesus). If the later reflects the original writing (which is likely), then even the explanation to the disciples is not clear (but "Mark" knew what it meant!)]"
"Mark" used a (so-called) parable in order to explain Jesus went public on a particular controversial subject in a way the people (and even his followers!) could not understand! Of course, the food laws (or rather the lack of them) that Jesus advocates for his disciples (and Christians!) were heretical for a Jew and obviously could not have been explained to a Jewish crowd.
Mk7:14-19 is a good example where a parable is meant for Gentile Christians and not Jesus' audience (even if it is told to them!).
a) I see a progression: at least one disciple was observed not to wash his hands before meals.
- Because other Jews (likely the ones in Mark's community) cleaned their hands prior to eating, according to ancestral tradition (Mk7:3), it is suggested the disciples were not truly Jews (Mk7:5-8).
- Because particules of dirt on unwashed hands could be unJewish foods, and could go inside the body (when eating bread), it is suggested the disciples did not follow Jewish food law.
It seems to me "Mark" was trying, from the smallest pretext, to take the Jewishness out of the eyewitness(es). And accepting Peter went to Corinth, that confirms he stopped eating with Gentiles after what happened in Antioch earlier (Gal2:11-14). If he did continue, that would have made Mark's job so much easier!
b) With only Mk8:34-9:1 & Mk12:35-40 as exceptions, "Mark" is consistent about Jesus teaching the crowds only in parables.
c) In GMark, Jesus is attracting the crowds because people wanted to be cured (Mk1:32,45,3:8-10). But "Mark" had Jesus addressed as "teacher", not only from his inner circle of followers/disciples, but also by others:
Mk9:17 "Then one of the crowd answered and said, "Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit.""
Oddly enough, Jesus is called "teacher" when requested to heal someone, as in Mk5:35 & Mk9:17, previously quoted!
Furthermore the author never explained why Jesus would be perceived as such by the people. And the use of only cryptic parables for "teaching" crowds (not understood, even by the disciples --Mk4:13,34,7:18-19) would NOT get Jesus considered as a teacher.
Therefore, it seems "Mark" was "forcing" Jesus as a "teacher", likely to have him measure up with well known others in early Christianity, such as Paul and Apollos (Ac18:24-28). Paul rated teachers ahead of workers of miracles & healers, but behind (as Jesus is also in GMark!) apostles & prophets:
1Co12:28 "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues."
If the nine parables can be considered giving some secrets to Christians (about delays, crises, causes for concern, events and problems) while waiting for the kingdom of God, they were of little benefit for Jesus' contemporaries.
But how to explain they had not been told by any eyewitness?
Probably by claiming the "Nazarenes" did not want to share the secret of the Kingdom with others, especially Gentiles:
Mk4:11a "He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you ...""
The statements of "Mark" about Jesus preaching only in unclear and unexplained parables (of no advantage for his audience) suggest that the author was not aware of any genuine ones
spoken by Jesus,
as a tool for his teaching.
Could "Mark" have not known about true Jesus' parables if they had existed?
In my view, it is clear that GMark was written for the Christians of Corinth. But what follows could be also applicable if the gospel had been written in Antioch, also mentioned as a possible origin. And what about Rome?
According to the Romans' letter (written by Paul from Corinth, in the winter of 56-57C.E.), many Christians that Paul knew (and had converted in Corinth), went back to Rome (Ro16:3-16). And most of these men and women, like Priscilla and Aquila:
Ac18:1-2 "After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them."
were probably among the Jews exiled by Claudius (49C.E.) who went back home after the emperor's death in 54C.E.
Therefore, many Christians from Rome would have been familiar with what happened and was happening in Corinth.
Note: going back to Rome proved to be a very bad idea: Nero used the Christians of Rome as scapegoats in 64C.E.
Tacitus annals, lib. XV "Nero, in order to stifle the rumour [that he started the (great) fire], ascribed it to ... Christians" "for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty [Nero's one], that they [the Christians of Rome] were being destroyed."
And no mention of prophecy to warn them against this deadly move! Actually Paul, less than seven years earlier, gave a very different prediction to the same Christians of Rome:
Ro13:11-12a "And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here."
And speaking about Nero, or his subordinates ("the one in authority" Ro13:3), the same Paul wrote:
Ro13:4a "For he is God's servant to do you good."
The Corinthian Christianity was started by Paul (50C.E.), then came (most likely) Peter (1Co1:12,3:21-22), probably Barnabas (Gal2:1),
(2Co11:4-5), others with letters of recommendation (2Co3:1) and some denounced by Paul as
(2Co11:13). And no trace of genuine parables by Jesus!
How could it be possible?
As we saw before, the imagery of many parables is very close to the one used by Paul. But Paul (who had relations with the "Nazarenes" (Gal1:18-19,2:1-10) and the "Church" in Antioch (Ac11:25-26)) never made use of any parables even if, in many cases, he had very little as a basis for his theological discussions. Paul or others certainly would have made public parables by Jesus (especially if it was a big part of his teaching) to "solve" some specific issues.
Simply, a vast body of Jesus' teachings could not have been totally ignored.
Could "Mark" have found these parables as "against the grain" and trashed them?
Certainly this consideration did not prevent the author to include some very embarrassing statements and stories such as:
Jesus' disciples "questioning what the rising from the dead meant" (Mk9:10), the cursing of the fig tree (Mk11:14), his family's low opinion of him "they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."" (Mk3:21), the charge of "king of the Jews" (Mk15:26), etc.
- The statements by "Mark" that Jesus was teaching only in
& obscure parables to his contemporaries and NOT for their benefit
- The author's treatment of parables (mainly as disguised prophecies for later Christians but of no or little use for Jesus' audience)
- The absence of early external mention of parables
point to the fact that Jesus did not teach in parables.
7. The other parables:
Following the lead of GMark, parables were generated and incorporated in the "Q" source (see
the Q source for its late dating). Still later, "Matthew"
and "Luke" included other parables
into their respective gospel. In all likelihood,
most (if not all of them) were conceived
by these latter authors.
And as in GMark, some parables were just disguised prophecies, while others evidently dealt with problems & issues of some struggling early Christian community & its members.
And the hypothesis of a latter origin in a Christian context makes the explanation for most of the parables far more obvious and simpler, as I'll demonstrate later for many of them.
All the authors knew of "Mark" statements
about parables (not meant for the Jews
of Jesus' times) but that did not prevent
"Matthew" and "Luke" to include most of Mark's
parables in their gospel.
"Matthew" reinstated the statements (and even added on):
Mt13:11-14 "He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you [the disciples] to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. and in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive ...'"
Mt13:15b "Lest [in order not] they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them."
Mt13:34 "All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them,"
Note: on the last point, the statement is in error, because, as an example, sayings (and not parables) are the main part of the "Sermon on the Mount" (Mt5:1-7:27). "Matthew" did not realize (or cared about) his own material was conflicting with the copied one from GMark. Another example: Mt1:1 conflicting with Mt22:41-45 copied from Mk12:35-37.
Luke's gospel has the largest number of parables:
twenty-eight. But "Luke" also wrote:
Lk8:9-10 "His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, `though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'""
"Luke" removed many of the embarrassing items of GMark, but obviously not this one: why?
The answer is obvious:
"Luke" (and the other synoptic authors) knew that their contemporary Christians would not regard the parables as teaching tools meant to enlighten Jesus' audience. Then, it was reckoned these parables had little (or no) meaning for the Galilean & Judean Jews of one to three generation(s) ago, but were highly meaningful for the latter (early Christian) believers.
I wish scholars would acknowledge that simple
fact, rather than endlessly:
- Proposing still new parabolic interpretations (within Jesus' context)
- Arguing about authenticity, parable by parable
Note: the Jesus Seminar voted a fair amount of the canonical parables as not likely from Jesus.
But the fellows' voting was rather disparate, unlike the one of judges at a diving or free skating competition. For example, some parables got revoted into the "pink" category after being voted twice as "gray", such as GThomas97&98. That shows how volatile parable judging can be!
Towards the end of the first century (when GMatthew & GLuke were written), new sayings and parables were still coming out (some sixty years after Jesus' death!) from suspicious sources:
Eusebius, 'The History of the Church', 3, 39, "the writings of Papias":
Note: Papias was a late 1st century to early 2nd century prominent Christian of Asia Minor who (allegedly) became the bishop of Hierapolis. All his works have disappeared except for a few passages as quoted by Irenaeus (late 2nd century) and Eusebius."Papias has left us five volumes entitled The Sayings of the Lord Explained."
And in the Apocryphon of James (written 100-150), Jesus (before the ascension but five hundred and fifty days after his resurrection !!!) tells Peter & James of new parables:
"I [Jesus] first spoke with you in parables, and you did not understand. ...
Let not the Kingdom of Heaven wither away. For it is like a date palm shoot whose fruits poured down around it. It put forth leaves and, when they budded, they caused the productivity of the date palm to dry up. Thus it is also with the fruit which came from this single root; when the fruit was picked, fruits were collected by many harvesters. It would indeed be good if it were possible to produce these new plants now; for then you would find the Kingdom. ...
For the Word is like a grain of wheat. When someone sowed it, he believed in it; and when it sprouted, he loved it, because he looked forward to many grains in the place of one; and when he worked it, he was saved, because he prepared it for food. Again he left some grains to sow. Thus it is also possible for you all to receive the Kingdom of Heaven: unless you receive it through knowledge, you will not be able to find it. ...
For the Kingdom of Heaven is like an ear of grain which sprouted in a field. And when it ripened, it scattered its fruit and, in turn, filled the field with ears of grain for another year."
Now, let's take a look at all the "Q" parables, then a few of the Matthean and Lukan ones.
=> Next: Parables and gospels: Part 2