Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Jesus Christ: Stunt Rider

The following is an excerpt from, *Prophecies: Imaginary And Unfulfilled* by Farrell Till:

As noted earlier, no event was too trivial for Matthew to see prophecy fulfillment in it, and one of his silliest prophecy-fulfillment claims concerned the so-called triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem shortly before his betrayal and crucifixion. The story was related by all three synoptic-gospel writers, but Matthew's version differs significantly from Mark's and Luke's. Mark and Luke simply had Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt to the cheers and hosannas of the multitudes (Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-40). Matthew, however, had to build it into a dramatic prophecy-fulfillment:
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethpage, at the Mount of Olives, then 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 daughters of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, 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 (21:1-7, NRSV). 
There are two conspicuous points of difference in Matthew's version of this event and Mark's and Luke's: (1) Matthew had Jesus riding BOTH a donkey and her colt; Mark and Luke had Jesus riding only a colt, and (2) Matthew saw it as fulfillment of a prophecy; Mark and Luke said nothing at all about prophecy fulfillment being involved.

I won't address the familiar fundamentalist "explanation" of the numerical inconsistency that says, "Well, if there were two donkeys, then there had to be one." Inerrantists invariably resort to this dodge to "explain" numerical discrepancies in the Bible. Did the gospel writers appear to disagree on the number of people who went to the tomb on the morning of the resurrection? Well, no problem! John simply chose to tell about one of them (Mary Magdalene); Matthew chose to tell about two (Mary Magdalene and the other Mary); Mark chose to tell about three (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome). If, however, there were several who went, as Luke indicated, then there is no error, because if there were several, then there was one, exactly as John said, and there were two, exactly as Matthew said, etc. Although this argument apparently satisfies diehard fundamentalists who are going to believe in Bible inerrancy regardless of what evidence to the contrary may exist, it offers no sensible explanation as to why the omniscient, omnipotent Holy Spirit would inspire John to write an infallibly perfect account of the visit to the tomb that mentions only one person, but on different occasions the same omniscient, omnipotent Holy Spirit would inspire Matthew, Mark, and Luke to write infallibly perfect accounts of the same story that all differ in the matter of who went to the tomb. After the first "perfect" gospel story had been written, what could have been going through the Holy Spirit's mind on these subsequent occasions that made him decide that this point had to be changed, not just once but three times? That is a confusing matter, to say the least.

As I said, however, my purpose is not to analyze quibbles that fundamentalists resort to in their frantic efforts to preserve the inerrancy doctrine, but to expose flaws in their prophecy-fulfillment argument, and there are plenty of them in Matthew's claim that Jesus's alleged act of riding two donkeys into Jerusalem fulfilled prophecy. As to Matthew's reference to two donkeys rather than just the one that Mark and Luke mentioned, I will simply ask how Jesus managed to ride two donkeys. Was this a type of stunt riding like we see in circuses and rodeos where the rider stands with one foot on separate horses? If so, what was the purpose of the theatrics? Was it to demonstrate that he could perform not just miracles but feats of physical dexterity too?

In my oral debate with H. A. "Buster" Dobbs in Portland, Texas, he suggested that the text could mean nothing more than that Jesus rode one donkey while touching the other or that he rode one for a while and then switched to the other. However, this doesn't seem to be what Matthew meant. He clearly said that the disciples brought the donkey and her colt to Jesus, "laid their clothes on them, and set Him [Jesus] on them" (v:7). So Matthew was obviously saying that in some way the disciples set Jesus on both of the animals.

There is a far more sensible explanation for the discrepancy in Matthew's version of this story and the other synoptic accounts than the far-fetched, how-it-could-have-been scenarios that Bible inerrantists resort to. Unfamiliar with the structure of Hebrew poetry, Matthew simply misunderstood the parallelism in the original statement of Zechariah, so this resulted in a misquotation:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt, the foal of an ass (Zech. 9:9, ASV).
Parallel emphasis was used extensively in Hebrew literature, and that was all that Zechariah was doing in this text. The ass was a colt, the foal of an ass, and this was all that Zechariah meant. Certainly, he did not mean for his readers to understand that this king (whoever he was) would ride on both an ass and her colt, as Matthew interpreted the statement to mean. (Incidentally, this mistake constitutes implied proof that whoever wrote the gospel of Matthew was non-Jewish and therefore unfamiliar with a Hebraic literary form that the real apostle Matthew would probably have known had he been the actual writer.) The misinterpretation resulted in an absurdity that is missing from Mark's and Luke's versions of the story, because they correctly understood the original statement.

There are far too many examples of parallel emphasis in the Old Testament to look at all of them, but a few will illustrate how ridiculous it is to attribute divine inspiration to a writer who was unable to recognize how it was used. Zechariah himself used it frequently. "And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius," he wrote, "that the word of Yahweh came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chislev" (7:1, ASV). Obviously, the ninth month was Chislev, and Chislev was the ninth month; the two were the same. Elsewhere, he wrote, "And they of Jerusalem shall yet again dwell in their own place, even in Jerusalem" (12:6, ASV). Their own place was Jerusalem, and Jerusalem was their own place. The two were the same.

This technique was by no means stylistically unique to Zechariah; it occurred throughout the Old Testament. Here are just a few of many examples that could be cited:
And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even the tem commandments (Deut. 4:13, ASV). 
Yahweh hath rent the kingdom out of thy hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to David (1 Sam. 28:17).

Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and portray upon it a city, even Jerusalem, and lay siege against it (Ezek. 4:1-2).
In each case, it is easy to see that the statement introduced with "even" is parallel to the statement before it. The two are the same. It was simply a Hebraic literary device employed to emphasize. Had the Greek author of "Matthew" understood this, he would not have misinterpreted Zechariah's statement and put Jesus into the absurd posture of riding into Jerusalem on two donkeys.

The fact that Matthew made this error and the fact that neither Mark nor Luke in telling the same story claimed that the event fulfilled prophecy are sufficient to discredit the claim that this was a prophecy fulfillment. After all, both Mark and Luke also attributed prophecy fulfillment to certain events in the life of Jesus, as well as Matthew did, so if the triumphal entry was indeed a fulfillment of something a prophet had predicted, wouldn't they, writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have known this and so informed their readers? Wouldn't they have been just as interested as Matthew in letting their readers know that Jesus had fulfilled the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament? To say no in answer to these questions would be to say that Mark and Luke and the Holy Spirit lacked common sense.

Besides all these problems with Matthew's claim that the "triumphal entry" fulfilled prophecy, there is the contextual one. When Zechariah's statement is examined in context, it becomes evident that Matthew, as he did in so many other instances, ignored original intention and pulled an Old Testament verse out of context to make it appear that an event in the life of Jesus fulfilled prophecy. As noted in a verse from Zechariah (7:1) quoted above, the prophet claimed that inspiration from Yahweh had come to him in the "fourth year of king Darius." This would have been during the postexhilic era when the Jews were concerned with rebuilding Jerusalem and their sacred temple. Much of what Zechariah wrote was intended to inspire confidence in the people who had set themselves to completing a difficult task. The chapter in which Zechariah wrote of a king riding on an ass, even a colt, the foal of an ass, predicted a general humiliation of the surrounding nations who were traditionally hostile to Israel. The prophet predicted that Yahweh would destroy Tyre and that she would be "devoured by fire" (v:4). The Philistine strongholds of Ekron, Ashkelon, and Ashdod would be cut off and become uninhabited (vv:5-7). Through the prophet, Yahweh promised to "camp around [his] house" (v:8) so that armies could no more pass through (v:8).

It was within this context that Zechariah spoke of Zion's king who would come riding on an ass, even a colt, the foal of an ass, because, quite naturally, in times of oppression and adversity a Hebrew prophet would predict the coming of a deliverer to save Yahweh's people. So this statement was made to instill confidence in the people of that generation, to assure them that they would succeed in their task and that Yahweh would protect them from their adversaries. To apply this to a man who would not live until five centuries later is to misapply it as flagrantly as did Matthew in twisting Isaiah 7:14 to make it appear that it was speaking of a woman who would bear a son 700 years in the future. Such was the desperation that New Testament writers were driven to in their attempts to prove that Jesus was the Messiah the prophets had spoken about.

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