Additional Sauces for the Feedings of 5000 and 4000

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by Neil Godfrey

Earlier post looked at Elisha’s miracle as Mark’s principle source for the mass feeding miracles – here I list a few distinctly Moses sources, and a comparison with Matthew’s parallel accounts, summarized from Dale C. Allison Jr’s The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (pp.238-242).

1. Compare the words shared between Mark 6 and Exodus 16 (LXX)

  • rest (anapausis/anapauso) Ex 16.23; Mk 6.31
  • bread (artos) Ex 16.3,4,8,12,15,29,32; Mk 6.37,38,41,44
  • know (ginosko) Ex 16.6,12; Mk 6.35
  • give (didomi) Ex 16.8,15,29; Mk 6.37,41
  • wilderness (eremos) Ex 16.1,3,10,14,32; Mk 6.35
  • surrounding (kyklo) Ex 16.13; Mk 6.36
  • heaven (ouranos) Ex 16.4; Mk 6.41
  • assembly (synago) Ex 16.5,16; Mk 6.30
  • command (syn/epitasso) Ex 16.16,24,32,34; Mk 6.39
  • place (topos) Ex 16.29; Mk 6.31,32,35

2. Jesus multiplied bread, and manna was identified as a type of bread

So he . . . fed you with manna . . . that he might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone but . . . by every word . . . (Deut 8:3)

You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger (Neh 9:15)

Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’ . . . . (John 6:31ff)

3. Mark 6:40 says the people sat in groups of 100’s and 50’s, which recalls organization of Israel in the wilderness: Exod. 18:21. Qumran community in seeking to reproduce the wilderness organization of Israel were similarly organized: 1QS 2:21-22; CD 13:1-2)

4. If Jesus multiplied the fishes too, Sipre Num. 98 records that the Israelites ate fish in their desert wanderings

5. Jesus and disciples cross the sea to the wilderness where they fed the hungry multitudes (Mark 6:32); in the Exodus the multitudes cross the sea into the wilderness where they are fed by manna

6. The crowds are said to be like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). Compare:

. . . the congregation of the LORD . . . like sheep which have no shepherd (Num. 27:17)

This detail has been omitted from this context by Matthew, but see separate note on Matthew below.

7. Jesus fed the crowds “when the day was far spent” (Mark 6:35), and it was in the evening when manna fell:

And when the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna fell on it (Num. 11:9)

8. Mark contains two similar feeding stories, matching the two different accounts of the manna miracle in the Pentateuch, Exodus 16 and Numbers 11


Matthew’s adaptations of Mark

Change 1: relocating the “sheep without a shepherd” reference

Matthew has removed Mark’s reference to the crowds being likened to “sheep without a shepherd” at the beginning of the feeding miracle and relocated it to a prelude to sending out his twelve disciples to preach.

Mark 6:34:
And Jesus, when he came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So he began to teach them many things.

Compare the new context of this phrase in Matthew 9:36-10:5:
But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ And when he had called his twelve disciples to him, he gave them power . . . Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: . . . These twelve Jesus sent out . . . .

Departing from Dale Allison here, my comment is that Matthew uses the “sheep without a shepherd” phrase to demonstrate the role of the twelve apostles as fellow shepherds sent out by Jesus. Mark does not demonstrate the same confidence in the twelve and confines the “sheep without a shepherd” passage to point to the role of Jesus only.

Returning to Allison, Matthew has apparently adhered to the original Mosaic source for this phrase as evidenced by the following:

Numbers 27:15-18
Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying: Let the LORD . . . set a man over the congregation . . . who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep which have no shepherd. And the LORD said to Moses: Take Joshua the son of Nun with you . . .

  1. This passage in Numbers contains the closest verbal parallel to Matthew’s phrase, unlike similar phrases in 1 Kings 22:17, 2 Chron. 18:16 and Judith 11:19.
  2. It is used in Numbers in the context of appointing a successor to Moses, and in Matthew within the similar context of appointing the twelve apostles as successors to Jesus.

Change 2: Counting the numbers differently

Mark’s feeding of the 5000 was for men only:

Now those who had eaten the loaves were five thousand men [andres] (Mk 6:44)

This accords with his Septuagint source:

And his servant said, Why should I set this before a hundred men [andrwn]? (2 Kg 4:43)

So why does Matthew change this to:

Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matt.14:21)

Compare Matt.15:38
Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.

Was Matthew simply trying to extend the miracle to feeding an even greater crowd than depicted in Mark? Or did he also have an eye on the Moses story here? (Few could doubt that the author was looking at the story of Moses when he opened his gospel with his birth of Jesus story with all its affinities to the events surrounding the birth of Moses.)

The Hebrew of Exodus 12:37 translates:

Then the children of Israel journeyed . . . about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children

But the LXX replaces “besides women and children” with the Greek word for “baggage”. (Why do serious scholars assume a mistranslation? I am quite sure the male translator knew what he was saying and in his own way meant ‘women and children’ 😉 ) Nevertheless, we also have clear evidence that it was generally understood that women and children did accompany the 600,000 men. I quote Allison’s citations for this:

Philo, On the Life of Moses, 1:147

And of those who now went forth out of Egypt . . . the men of age to bear arms were more than six hundred thousand men, and the other multitude of elders, and children, and women were so great that it was not easy to calculate it.

Josephus, Antiquities, 2:317 (II.XV.1)

Now the entire multitude of those that went out, including the women and children, was not easy to be numbered; but those that were of an age fit for war, were six hundred thousand.

When Moses is asking how he is to feed the entire assembly of Israelites in Numbers 11:21 he says they “number 600,000 men on foot”. This matches Exodus 12:37 that refers only to the number of men when speaking of the entire multitude leaving Egypt. Matthew in his feeding miracles appears to be alluding to the way the multitude in the wilderness was counted in the time of Moses.

Change 3: Bringing in the Psalms?

Psalm 107:4-9 (LXX)

They wandered in the waterless wilderness [en te eremo — cf Mt.15:33] . . . and he led them by a straight way [eis odon — cf Mt.15:32] . . . For he satisfies [echortase — cf Mt.15:37] the empty soul . . .

Change 4: Sitting on the mountain (again)

Matthew’s feeding of the 4000 was designed to recall the setting of the Sermon on the Mount (the literal translations from Green’s Interlinear):

  • he went into the mountain (anebe eis to oros) 5:1
  • going up into the mountain (anabas eis to oros) 15:29
  • sitting down himself (kathisantos autou) 5:1
  • he set there (ekatheto ekei) 15:29
  • crowds many (ochloi polloi) 4:24 – gathered for the following episode
  • crowds great (ochloi polloi) 15:30 – gathered for the following episode
  • and they brought to him (kai etherapeusen autous) 4:24
  • (kai etherapeusen autous) 15:30
  • the distinction between the disciples and the crowd in both 5:1 and 15:32

Allison argues on 4 grounds that Jesus sitting on the mountain in both episodes is a clear indication that Matthew intended his feeding of the 4000 to recall Moses as the Lawgiver feeding Israel in the wilderness:

1. In the LXX the Greek for “going up on the mountain” occurs 24 times, 18 of which belong to the Pentateuch, with most referring to Moses. This points to a ready association of this phrase with Moses.

2. Jesus sits on the mountain. This references to much more than the custom for teachers to sit when they taught. In Deut.9:9 (alluded to in Matt.4.2?) Moses says:

When I went up the mountain . . . I remained [wa’seb = sat] on the mountain forty days and forty nights . . .

The BDB lists several meaning the word translated “remained” [yasab], the first of which is “sit”.

Allison surveys the evidence relating to this word in this specific context and finds evidence that from the turn of the century there existed the understanding by Jewish commentators (including Philo and 4 Ezra) that Moses did “sit” with God on Mount Sinai when receiving the law. Further, a tradition that when Moses ascended Sinai he actually entered heaven and sat on the divine throne there can be traced as far back as Ezekiel the Tragedian (2nd century b.c.e.)

The image of Moses sitting on Sinai . . . was firmly established in the imagination of pre-Christian Jews. It was therefore a resource Matthew could have utilized had he wished.” (p.179)

3. “More than one ancient author advanced a Moses typology by making his main character sit.” (p.179) 4 Ezra 14, Athanasius’ Vita Antonii, John 6:3ff, et al.

4. The conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, 8:1, is almost identical with the LXX of Exod.34:29 that speaks of Moses’ descent from the mountain:

katabantos (Mt.8:1) / katabainontos (Ex.34:29 de autou apo tou orous

Conclusion: Why Matthew’s changes?

After reading Allison’s commentary one can readily attribute Matthew’s changes to Mark’s mass feeding stories to:

  1. his interest in redeeming the authority of the twelve apostles
  2. his interest in portraying Jesus as a second (or greater than) Moses

The authors of both gospels were working within theology and texts, not with eyewitnesses nor with varying traditions.


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Neil Godfrey

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