§ 59. The situation

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



Tenth section.

The Elijah deeds of Jesus.

Matth. C. 14, 1 – 16,12.


§ 59.

The situation.

Wilke first made the discovery that the events following from the multiplication of the loaves to the demand for a sign have their “parallels” in the deeds of Elijah, as recounted in the Old Testament. *) In the passage that introduces this section, it is already reported as a popular opinion that Jesus is Elijah (Mark 6, 15.), in the narrative section that follows the passage, Jesus is informed by his disciples, in response to the question as to whom the people believe him to be, that they believe him to be Elijah: “so in the section to which we now pass, just such actions and speeches of Jesus are set forth in which he has resemblance to Elijah.”

*) p. 569. 570.

We will not give a preliminary overview of the accounts this time, since only the critique of the individual – it concerns the account of the second feeding of the people in the writing of Mark – can enlighten us about the connection and the structure of the whole. Only this much we notice here, that Luke, at the point where we have arrived at this moment, reports only about one act of Elijah of Jesus, – about the miraculous feeding of the people – C. 9, 10-17. Matthew, on the other hand, after he has become so far master of the confusion caused by the forcibly inserted Sermon on the Mount that he can remain faithful to the type of the Gospel story as formed by Mark, gives us everything that he finds in the scriptures of Mark, only having to omit the sending of the Twelve, which Mark places after Jesus is rejected by the Nazarethites and before Herod takes notice of him. However, once again, he reveals that he has superficially used and thoughtlessly transcribed Mark’s scripture regarding the pragmatic linkage of the individual sections. Otherwise, however, he again reveals that he has used Mark’ writing superficially and copied it thoughtlessly as far as the pragmatic connection of the individual pieces is concerned. After the parable, he has Jesus go to Nazareth, the prophet is rejected in his fatherland, Herod becomes aware of Jesus, now, after the execution of the Baptist has been reported, there follows the momentous message which the disciples of John bring to Jesus, and the latter (C. 14, 13.) “goes from there in a boat into the solitude of the desert. From Nazareth, answers Fritzsche *). It is certain: Matthew is capable of everything; but that he would have imagined that Jesus had sailed directly from Nazareth by ship across the Sea of Genesareth to the eastern shore, we cannot consider him capable of that. However, in chapter 13, verse 58, he forgot to transcribe the note from Mark that Jesus left Nazareth and traveled around teaching – he relied on the impression conveyed by the narrative that must convince every reader that Jesus no longer troubled his unbelieving hometown with his presence. He also does not tell us where Jesus was when he sailed across the sea to the wilderness, as he could not include Mark’s account of the mission trip of the Twelve and their return to Jesus, whom they found at his usual location by the sea. He must now suddenly transcribe the note of the crossing of the sea from Mark (Chapter 6, verse 32) without providing his readers with the necessary assumptions.

*) to Matth, p. 492.


Matthew also did not know that the Elijah-like character of the following events and that the report that the disciples later gave to the Lord about the opinion of the people (C. 16, 14.) should be motivated and explained to the reader in this passage. For in order that the reader might know where he stood, Mark, when he reported Herod’s opinion of Jesus as the risen Baptist, had already stated that others took him for Elijah, others for a prophet (C. 6, 14. 15.) *), Matthew, on the other hand, only attributes to him the one note (Mark 6, 14.) that Herod believed Jesus to be the risen Baptist. Luke also changed what he read in his source: while Mark simply put the opinion of Herod and the opinion of the people next to each other, he rather combined both, also made the opinion of Herod, that Jesus was the risen Baptist, the opinion of the people and the tetrarch only got embarrassed when he heard the different judgements about Jesus **) (C. 9, 7. 8.). But there is the remark of Herod v. 9: “I have beheaded John, but who is this of whom I hear these things?” – the reworking of Mark 6, 16 – especially if the beheading of the Baptist is not reported, is very futile, because first of all it was just said that Herod was embarrassed and did not know what to think, and secondly it was obvious that the Baptist had gone to or been sent to the dead before it was thought that he had risen in Jesus, if the opinion was formed that he had risen in Jesus.

*) After v. 16 Mark returns – and so it was necessary – to the opinion of Herod; for he wants to make the transition to the report of the beheading of the Baptist and therefore lets Herod say: “he is John, whom I have beheaded”. Matthew did not know the meaning of this nuance and omitted v. 16 just as he did v. 15.

**) The alteration Luke 9, 8 : προφητης εις των αρχαιων ανεστη will be mentioned later.


Another change! Mark simply reports that Herod became aware of Jesus, whose reputation was spreading, and does not yet attempt to relate the following report of Jesus’ Elijah deeds to this note from Herod. Luke – for he reports here only the one act of Elijah, the miraculous feeding – has nothing which he could relate to the fact that Herod heard of Jesus; but since he omits the report of the beheading of the Baptist, he must fill in the gap and this stopgap is the remark, taken out of the air, that Herod wanted to see Jesus *). From this remark, a new story gradually develops for him, and suddenly, even though he had already sent Jesus (in chapters 9:51 and 13:22) on his journey to Jerusalem and therefore out of Herod’s jurisdiction, he tells us (in chapter 13:31) that some Pharisees (!) approached the Lord and, very sympathetically and unusually for them, advised him to leave here(!), as Herod wanted to kill him. How Luke further develops this fiction later on, and in chapter 23:8 he himself no longer knows anything about this hostile attitude of Herod towards Jesus, which would appear ridiculous if we were to ask why Herod suddenly became so embittered against Jesus, we will learn in due time.

*) 9, 9: και εζήτει ιδείν αυτόν.

Matthew represents the matter as if Herod’s attention had been threatening, for Jesus withdrew into solitude on receiving the news of the tetrarch (C. 14, 13.), so he thought it expedient to avoid publicity for some time. But what motivated him to this retreat? The news that the disciples of the Baptist brought him of the unhappy end of their Master’s life, a news that he could not receive at that moment, since it was intercepted and misappropriated by the authorities long before it could reach the Lord!


It was not only the news of the death of the Baptist, Matthew thinks, that moved Jesus to retreat into hiding, but explicitly the certainty he now received about the bloodthirsty character of Herod. The tyrant, says the evangelist C. 14, 5, had always wanted to kill the Baptist in prison, but for fear of the people, who regarded him as a prophet, he had not dared to do so. Now, when the disciples of the Baptist brought him this news, did not Jesus have reason enough to fear that Herod would also pursue him? Did he not know how he stood by the tyrant and that he had to beware of him if he did not want to be killed before the time? Quite beautiful! This may have been in Matthew’s mind when he portrayed the matter in such a way that Jesus withdrew into hiding after receiving this news; but the evangelist himself has seen to it that this beautiful pragmatism coincides. Although he says that Herod wanted to kill the Baptist, he presents the matter in such a way that the tyrant was only persuaded against his will to take the prisoner’s life. That oath to which he had committed himself against the daughter of Herodias, and the cunning of his wife, who, it is not known why, instructed her daughter to demand from Herod the head of the Baptist, only these foreign stipulations, which went beyond his will, induced him to have the Baptist beheaded, and he himself was sad when he saw himself bound by his oath *). Strange but easily explained contradiction! Matthew has thrown the subjects, verb and object, in a colourful jumble when he copied and abbreviated the narrative of Mark*). Mark tells us that Herodias resented the Baptist’s censure of her marriage to Herod as unlawful, and that she wanted to kill him but could not. For Herod feared John, knowing him to be a just and holy man, and therefore had him well guarded; he had also obeyed him in many things, after obtaining his counsel, and had generally liked to hear him. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that Herod was saddened when he saw how his oath, by which he had committed himself against the daughter of Herodias, cost the Baptist his head **).

*) Matth. 14, 9: ελυπήθη ο βασιλεύς, διά δε τους όρκους και τους συνανακειμένους εκέλευσε δοθήναι. Mark 6, 26 : και περίλυπος γενόμενος ο βασιλεύς διά τους όρκους και τους συνανακειμένους ουκ ηθόλησεν αυτήν αθετήσαι.

*) Schneckenburger, about the origin of the first canonical gospel. p. 87. Wilke p. 676.

**) Μatth. 14, 5: και θέλων αυτών αποκτεϊναι, εφοβήθη τον όχλον, ότι ως προφήτην είχον. Mark 6, 19. 20: η δε Ηρωδιάς ενείχεν. αυτό και ήθελεν αυτόν αποκτείναι και ουκ ήδύνατο. ο γάρ Ηρώδης εφοβείτο τον Ιωάννην, ειδώς αυτόν άνδρα δίκαιον και άγιον και συνετηρει αυτόν και ακούσας αυτού πολλά επoίει και ηδέως αυτού ήκουε. Throughout, in all its particulars, Mark’s narrative proves to be the original one. It is not impossible that a cursory glance at the narrative of his predecessor and the reflection that the same danger threatened the Lord on the part of Herod, i.e. the wrong conception of Mark 6, 19 ( ἤθελεν αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι) the same view that Matthew also allowed himself, to whom Luke wrote that note C. 13, 31 (θελει σε αποκτειναι) could be discovered. What Mark 6 says about Herod’s relationship to the Baptist and his own discovery that Herod had discovered Jesus εζητει ιδειν (Ch. 9:9), Luke used both of these for his account of the meeting of Jesus and Herod: ο δε ηρωδης ιδων τον ιησουν εχαρη λιαν ην γαρ θελων εξ ικανου ιδειν αυτον δια το ακουειν πολλα περι αυτου …… επηρωτα δε αυτον εν λογοις ικανοις Ch. 23:8-9.


Matthew’s ephemeral work, which was done in the fleeting moment of fear, has now dissolved on all sides, and the only question that remains is whether the original evangelist placed the assumption of Herod here solely in order to add the note that some of the people believed Jesus to be Elijah, and thus to introduce the passage that reports Jesus’ deeds of Elijah. The question must be answered in the negative. Why else would Mark describe in such detail the different attitudes of Herod and his wife towards the Baptist? As soon as we throw out the question and let the account work on us with all its means, the mystery is solved. Just as Ahab was provoked and driven to persecute the prophets and to shed innocent blood by the bloodthirsty and bitter Jezebel, so now, when the Lord performs Elijah’s deeds, a new Ahab and a new Jezebel are to stand in the background. As Ahab finally bowed to the prophet and obeyed his words, so must Herod lend a willing ear to the words of the Baptist, while Herodias is resolute in her hatred of the God-man. Just as in the time of Ahab and Jezebel the prophets had to retreat into seclusion and Elijah wandered inactive and volatile, so also the Lord from now on, since Herod became aware of him, has to wander restlessly, into the deserts, then towards Phoenicia, later to the region of Caesarea Philippi and only for a moment he may rest in Capernaum, in order to finally start from the centre of his former activity on the way of death to Jerusalem. The fact that Herod’s attention was drawn to Jesus does not appear to be a threat, but if, against his will and through his own carelessness, the Baptist fell victim to the unforgiving hatred of his wife, could not a similar fate befall the man who seemed to him to be the resurrected preacher of repentance? Mark does not explain Jesus’ retreat into the wilderness from the fact that Herod’s attention was drawn to the miracle-worker, simply because he had told the story of the end of the Baptist so widely and now, knowing full well that he had gone back to an earlier time, had to look for another motive. But this much is certain: Herod and his wife had acted against the Baptist as Ahab and Jezebel had acted against Elijah, and they stand as these threatening figures in the background, while Jesus, the risen Baptist, appears as Elijah, acts, and wanders about without a cause. Mark had been content to simply juxtapose these figures and rely on the impression they would make on the reader, while his two followers, although they had not even understood the tendency of this passage, sought to place Herod’s appearance, his attitude and Jesus’ withdrawal in a more definite context in the unfortunate way we have come to know.


Only because he wanted Herod to appear as the second Ahab, Mark calls him “the king” C. 6,14; the two others call him “the tetrarch” (Matth. 14, 1. Luke 9, 7.), because they did not know what this title meant.

If the insight into the ideal context of this passage will be very dangerous to the theological presupposition of its credibility, then this danger will betray itself in all its seriousness already in advance, if it does not remain alien even to a piece of narrative that goes back further. We mean the account of Jesus’ appearance in Nazareth.


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