Sunday, March 26, 2023

A Donkey and a Side Car

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Matthew 21:1-11, the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the sixth Sunday of Lent. I also have an essay on the Last Supper text from Matthew 26:17-30 here

Καὶ ὅτε ἤγγισαν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ ἦλθον εἰς Βηθφαγὴ εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν, 
τότε Ἰησοῦς ἀπέστειλεν δύο μαθητὰς 
And when they came close to Jerusalem and came into Bethphage to the Mount of the Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples
ἤγγισαν: AAI 3p, ἐγγίζω, 1) to bring near, to join one thing to another
ἦλθον: AAI 3p, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
ἀπέστειλεν: AAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away
1. The only mention of Bethphage in the NT is in the synoptic stories of the entry into Jerusalem.

2 λέγων αὐτοῖς, Πορεύεσθε εἰς τὴν κώμην τὴν κατέναντι ὑμῶν, καὶ εὐθέως εὑρήσετε ὄνον δεδεμένην καὶ πῶλον μετ' αὐτῆς: λύσαντες ἀγάγετέ μοι. 
saying to them, “Go into the village before you, and immediately you will find an ass bound and colt with her; having loosed lead to me.
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Πορεύεσθε: PMImpv 2p, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey
εὑρήσετε: FAI 2p, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with
λύσαντες: AAPart npm, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened
ἀγάγετέ: AAImpv 2p, ἄγω, 1) to lead, take with one 
1. As an interesting comparison, I translate Luke’s version of this story as Jesus saying, “Slip into the village” (19:30) because Luke has the word ὑπάγω instead of πορεύομαι. ὑπάγω can have a tone of stealth to it.
2. Another interesting comparison is that in John’s story (12:12-18) it is the people themselves, in response to the raising of Lazarus, that begin heralding Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In response to their actions, Jesus “finds” a colt and rides on it. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus seems to be orchestrating it all and seems to have pre-arranged the use of the colt, etc.
3. Of the four stories of the entry into Jerusalem, only Matthew has two animals. I like to think of it as the difference between Jesus riding a motorcycle and Jesus riding a motorcycle with a sidecar.

3 καὶ ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ τι, ἐρεῖτε ὅτι Ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν χρείαν ἔχει: εὐθὺς δὲ ἀποστελεῖ αὐτούς. 
And if anyone should speak to you, say, ‘Our lord has need:’ Yet immediately he will send them.  
εἴπῃ: AASubj 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐρεῖτε: FAI 2p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
ἀποστελεῖ: FAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away,
1. A small challenge here is where, exactly, the quote ends. If it ends with, “Our Lord has need,” then the phrase “immediately he will send them” would signify the actions of the person asking the challenging question. If the quote ends with “immediately he will send,” then it would refer to Jesus returning the animals after the need is met.

4 Τοῦτο δὲ γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος
Yet this happened in order that the word through the prophet might be fulfilled saying,
γέγονεν: PerfAI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be,
πληρωθῇ: APSubj 3s, πληρόω, 1) to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full
λέγοντος: PAPart gsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

5 Εἴπατε τῇ θυγατρὶ Σιών, Ἰδοὺ ὁ βασιλεύς σου ἔρχεταί σοι, πραῢς καὶ ἐπιβεβηκὼς ἐπὶ ὄνον, καὶ ἐπὶ πῶλον υἱὸν ὑποζυγίου.
“Say to the daughter Zion, ‘Behold your king comes to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt a foal of a beast of burden.
Εἴπατε: AAImpv 2p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔρχεταί: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ἐπιβεβηκὼς: PerfAPart nsm, ἐπιβαίνω, 1) to get upon, mount
1. This is the one and only use of ὑποζυγίου in the NT and it literally means “under the yoke.”
2. The full quote of this reference, Zechariah 9:9-10, reads:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
   Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
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.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
   and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
   and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
   and from the River to the ends of the earth.
3. Matthew leaves “daughter Jerusalem” out of the quote.
4. Piles of pages have been written on whether Matthew is misreading Zechariah. Specifically, the question revolves around whether Zechariah is actually speaking of two different animals or using a parallel structure to describe one animal – something like, “a donkey, that is, the colt that is a foal of a donkey.” While Matthew is clearly speaking of two animals, the question is whether Zechariah was doing so. The question also pertains to v.7 below.
5. One thing that I found interesting as I read about this controversy, was that there was a long discussion throughout Israel’s history whether or not they should use horses as instruments of war. Horses were long associated with Egypt and seemed to represent an escalation of a country’s warfare from being primarily defensive to being offensive in purpose. Even in the Zechariah text one can see how cutting off the “war horse” and the chariot was part of the road to peace. See Charles W. F. Smith, “The horse and the Ass in the Bible: an Essay on Zechariah 9:9, 10” in Anglican Theological Review, 27 no 2 Apr 1945, p 86-97. (One could say “this is an essay to assess the assignation of asses,” but one should never do so.)
6. Luke and Mark do not invoke the Zechariah text directly. John does. John 12:14 reads: Μὴ φοβοῦ, θυγάτηρ Σιών: ἰδοὺ ὁ βασιλεύς σου ἔρχεται, καθήμενος ἐπὶ πῶλον ὄνου, “May you not fear, daughter Zion: Behold the king comes to you, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” 

6 πορευθέντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ καὶ ποιήσαντες καθὼς συνέταξεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς 
Then the disciples having gone and having done just as Jesus arranged for them
πορευθέντες: APPart npm, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  
ποιήσαντες: AAPart npm, ποιέω, 1) to make 
συνέταξεν: AAI 3s, συντάσσω, 1) to put in order with or together, to arrange

7 ἤγαγον τὴν ὄνον καὶ τὸν πῶλον, καὶ ἐπέθηκαν ἐπ' αὐτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια, καὶ ἐπεκάθισεν ἐπάνω αὐτῶν. 
led the donkey and the colt, and put on them the clothes, and set upon them.
ἤγαγον: AAI 3p, ἄγω, 1) to lead, take with one
ἐπέθηκαν: AAI 3p, ἐπιτίθημι, 1) in the active voice  1a) to put or lay upon  
ἐπεκάθισεν: AAI 3s, ἐπικαθίζω, 1) to cause to sit upon, to set upon  2) to sit upon
1. This verse is fraught with translation challenges.
A. The pronoun αὐτῶν (genitive plural), for example, can be read as connected with the preposition ἐπ' to read, “on them.” Or, it can be read as modifying the phrase τὰ ἱμάτια to make ‘the clothes’ possessive into “they put their clothes.” Some translations have both, making this “they put their clothes on them.” I’m not familiar enough with 1st century habits to know if the phrase “put the donkey’s clothes on it” would mean something like, “saddle up,” and refer to the kind of equipment one would put on a donkey before riding it. That could be quite a change from the kind of equipment one would put on a donkey before loading it up with fish or wares or other burdens.
B. The last phrase is missing an object for the verb ‘set,’ so most translations add “set him on them.” It seems clear that it is Jesus who is set on them.
C. Then the question arises, whether the final αὐτῶν (“on them”) refers to animals or clothes. I find it hard to imagine what it would look like for Jesus to be set on two different animals, but that would work with Matthew’s interpretation of Zechariah.  

8 ὁ δὲ πλεῖστος ὄχλος ἔστρωσαν ἑαυτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ, ἄλλοι δὲ ἔκοπτον κλάδους ἀπὸ τῶν δένδρων καὶ ἐστρώννυον ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ. 
Yet the great crowd spread their clothes on the road, yet others cut down branches from the trees and spread on the road.
ἔστρωσαν: AAI 3p, στρώννυμι, 1) to spread 
ἔκοπτον: IAI 3p, κόπτω, 1) to cut, strike, smite  2) to cut from, cut off  3) to beat one's breast for grief
ἐστρώννυον: IAI 3p, στρώννυμι, 1) to spread  2) furnish  3) to spread with couches or divans
1. The word πλεῖστος is the superlative form of πολύς, but it would sound odd in English to say “the greatest crowd,” so most translations have something like “very great crowd.” If we were to follow John Dominic Crossan’s and Marcus Borg’s suggestion in The Last Week, that Jesus’ entry here is intended to be a rival entry to King Herod’s usual pompous entry into Jerusalem for the festival of Passover, then we the word “greatest” would be more viable. However, as powerful as that comparison might be historically, I see no reason to assume that Matthew has it in mind.
2. Thank goodness that Matthew (like Mark and John) has reference to “leafy branches.” If it were left up to Luke, “Palm Sunday” would be “Garment Sunday.”
3. Strewing clothes is an interesting way of feting a king, isn’t it? Given how important one’s cloak, tunic, etc. are in many biblical passage (such as the deuteronomic law that a tunic take as a pledge for a loan must be returned to its owner at night), I wonder if strewn clothes might be a sign that the celebrants trust the king to provide. (And I think that is the first time I have ever used the word “strewing.”)

9 οἱ δὲ ὄχλοι οἱ προάγοντες αὐτὸν καὶ οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες ἔκραζον λέγοντες, Ὡσαννὰ τῷ υἱῷ Δαυίδ: Εὐλογημένοςἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου: Ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις. 
Yet the crowds that were going ahead of him and those following were crying out saying, “Hosanna to the son of David; Blessed the one who comes in the lord’s name; Hosanna in the highest.”
προάγοντες: PAPart npm, προάγω, 1) to lead forward, lead forth
ἀκολουθοῦντες: PAPart npm, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes,
ἔκραζον: IAI 3p, κράζω, 1) to croak  1a) of the cry of a raven 
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Εὐλογημένος: PPPart nsm, εὐλογέω, 1) to praise, celebrate with praises  
ἐρχόμενος: PMPart nsm, ρχομαι, 1) to come 
1. I like how the word κράζω (cry out) is like an onomatopoeia, imitating the croak of a raven. It is used for both loud crowds and desperate people, like a woman crying out for help and Jesus crying out from the cross.
2. The word “Hosanna” is only found in the entry stories of the NT. The Greek term Ὡσαννὰ seems to be a transliteration of the Hebrew הושיעה־נא. When הושיעה־נא appears in the OT, such as in Psalm 118:25, it was translated in the LXX as σῴζω, “to save.”

10καὶ εἰσελθόντος αὐτοῦ εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα ἐσείσθη πᾶσα ἡ πόλις λέγουσα, Τίς ἐστιν οὗτος; 
And with him having entered into Jerusalem all the city was stirred saying, “Who is this?”
εἰσελθόντος: AAPart gsm, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter
ἐσείσθη: API 3s, σείω, 1) to shake, agitate, cause to tremble 
λέγουσα: PAPart nsf, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

11 οἱ δὲ ὄχλοι ἔλεγον, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ προφήτης Ἰησοῦς ὁ ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲθ τῆς Γαλιλαίας. 
Yet the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee.
ἔλεγον: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. This is an interesting conversation between “all the city” (πᾶσα ἡ πόλις) and “the crowds” (οἱ ὄχλοι).


  1. (One could say “this is an essay to assess the assignation of asses,” but one should never do so.) LOLOLOLOL! Also, this rest of this is pretty great. Thanks!

  2. ἐσείσθη - related to seismic? An earthquake event?


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