§ 65. The Canaanite Woman

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2


Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



§ 65.

The Canaanite Woman.

Matth. 15, 21-28.

If one has not yet discovered the scriptural origin of the Gospels, one must be very surprised that the disciples ask their Master to satisfy the Canaanite woman, while the latter replies very sternly that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. In order to avoid all unfortunate consequences, one could say that the request of the disciples came only from a vague compassion, not from a freer insight, and furthermore they wanted to be rid of the annoying cry of the woman, who incessantly cried out behind the Lord: Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David, my daughter is badly afflicted by demons. If the disciples are now duly suspected, one could try to soften the Lord’s offensive word that he was sent “only” to the sheep of Israel, and claim that Jesus was inwardly determined to help the woman, depending on her proving faith. But if Jesus had really inwardly harboured this reservation, he would at least now, after letting the disciples feel the apparent harshness of his purpose and of the divine decree, have to turn kindly to the woman: But not only does he not do so, but even more harshly than he had just done, he tells the woman that he must not waste on the Gentiles the benefits that are meant only for the Jews – “it is not nice to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” – and it is only by chance, the woman’s unexpected strong statement of faith, that he moves him to heal her daughter from afar. So he has nothing on the disciples: if they only wanted the woman to be helped so that they would be relieved of the annoying crying, Jesus, against his expectation and intention, is moved by an accidental surprise to grant the woman’s request. Indeed, the disciples seem to stand even higher because they initially felt compassion, while Jesus had to be disarmed by a new bold attack.


The point of the story is obviously in the woman’s startling words: “Yes, Lord! (namely, it is indeed not right to give the bread of the children to the dogs, but for this reason I do not have to be excluded) for even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” But if the disciples have already pleaded for the woman and without success, this point comes too late and the contrast that has now come into the narrative remains unclear; on the other hand, the exclusion of the Gentiles has become much too serious if Jesus only tells the disciples and then the woman that he has nothing to do with foreigners, and the coincidence that suddenly changes his view becomes even more arbitrary, making the whole picture restless and unstable.

The disciples must step aside, Jesus must not have previously spoken to them about his limited mission, so that at the first moment when the woman addresses him, the collision is formed and resolved through the bold faith of the Gentile woman: in short, so that the original account, the story of Mark (Mark 7:24-30) is restored. The foreign intruders that Matthew has allowed into the original account will be easily sent back home. Just as the woman’s cry, “Have mercy on me, Son of David,” and the fact that she cries out, are borrowed from Mark’s account of the healing of the blind man at Jericho, so also the other feature that the others find this crying annoying and want peace is also taken from there: in Mark’s account, the people there are generally threatening the blind man to be quiet (Mark 10:47), here, in the present story, the crowd is missing, so the disciples must step aside, find the crying annoying, and ask for the request to be granted – because Matthew knows that the miracle will be performed later – and when it comes to the disciples’ words, Matthew remembers that they have said to the Lord on another occasion: “Send them away!” (Mark 6:36, Matthew 14:15). They must now say the same thing, even though the words take on a different meaning on this occasion.


If it was now finally a matter of dispatching the disciples – but they had to be dispatched, so that only by the woman’s believing utterance would the collision be resolved – Matthew took the words of Jesus, which the woman hears in the Scripture of Mark, and reworked the one member – for Jesus’ answer has two members – into that saying with which Jesus rejects the disciples’ request. Under this work, a contradiction that Mark had introduced into Jesus’ words was eliminated. For when it is said: let the children first be filled, for it is not good to take “the children’s bread” and throw it to the dogs, in the first clause the dogs are left with the prospect that when the children are filled they will also be filled, but in the second clause of the saying they are deprived of any hope that they will receive bread. The contradiction is to be explained by the fact that Mark was still timid, did not dare to show the limit of Jesus’ destiny in its stark exclusiveness from the outset and, moreover, was involuntarily dominated at this moment by the ecclesiastical view that salvation was first destined for the Jews. But this mood and these influences worked only secretly: the main reason which produced the contradiction lies in the fact that Mark modelled Jesus’ speech on the conversation between Elijah and the widow of Sarepta (1 Kings, 17, 12.13.). How that widow, when Elijah demanded bread from her, asserted the need of her son*), but Elijah spoke courage to her and commanded her to give him first (L. XX s-, nßwroes) bread first, and that with God’s help her son would also find what he needed later, just as in this context it is a question of the previous satisfaction of another, so Jesus must also assert the need of the children, who had to be satisfied first, and only in the second part of the sentence, when the general principle is stated that one must not take “their bread” from the children, only then does it happen that the barrier of Jesus’ determination and the exclusive prerogative of the Jews involuntarily emerge for a moment. But only for a moment! For the woman overthrows the barriers by her bold word, and she had to overthrow them, since the woman of Sarepta also gives the bread, which was intended for her child, to the strange man. Matthew, however, has strengthened the barrier far too much when he suppresses the provision of precedence, which was originally at issue, and even allows the Lord to assert twice to the disciples and to the woman the exclusive privilege of the Jews.

If it was finally about getting rid of the disciples – they had to be dismissed so that the collision would be resolved later by the faithful utterance of the woman – then Matthew took the words of Jesus that the woman hears in the Gospel of Mark and turned one clause, which actually consists of two, into the saying with which Jesus rejects the request of the disciples. In this work, a contradiction that Mark had brought into the words of Jesus was eliminated. When it says, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” in the first clause, the dogs are allowed the prospect that they too would be satisfied later when the children are full, while in the second clause of the saying, any hope that they would get bread is taken away from them. The contradiction is explained by the fact that Mark was still hesitant to show the limit of Jesus’ determination in its harsh exclusivity from the outset and was unconsciously dominated by that ecclesiastical view that the Jews were initially (prōton) determined to have salvation. But these moods and influences only worked in secret: the main reason for the contradiction was that Mark had modeled Jesus’ speech after the conversation between Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:12-13). Just as that widow, when Elijah asked her for bread, pleaded the need of her son *), and Elijah encouraged her and told her to bring him bread first (LXX εν πρωτοις), with God’s help, her son’s needs would be met afterwards, since this context is about the previous satiation of another, so Jesus must now also assert the need of the children who had to be satiated first against the woman. Only in the second clause of the saying, when the general principle is expressed that one should not take the children’s “bread”, does the barrier of Jesus’ determination and the exclusive prerogative of the Jews unintentionally emerge for a moment. But only for a moment! For the woman overturns the barriers with her bold words, and she had to overturn them, since that widow of Zarephath also gave the bread that was intended for her child to the stranger. However, Matthew has fortified the barrier far too much, by suppressing the determination of priority, which was originally at stake, and even twice allowing the Lord to assert to the disciples and to the woman that the exclusive privilege of the Jews was claimed.

*) Wilke, 570.


The situation is still to be considered. Matthew says that the Lord went “into” the territory of Tyre and Sidon and that the woman – a Canaanite, Mark calls her a Greek, from Syro-Phoenicia – met him “just there” when she came “from” the same territory – i.e. Matthew reports an impossibility **). He has written out Mark wrongly! Mark not only reports that Jesus, like Elijah, when he set out for Sarepta, wanted to remain hidden, that he was in a house when that woman approached him and asked for help for her daughter, but he also presents the matter reasonably when he says: Jesus was near the Phoenician region, and here *) that woman came to him; this is just as reasonable and coherent as it is the simple expression of the idea with which we are here concerned. “Jesus was near the Phoenician territory, but not within it.” That woman had come out to him, they stand on the border where the Jewish and the Gentile separated and touched. “Jesus now understands the woman as if she were asking him to go away from the part of the territory where the Jews could seek his help, and to go with the Gentile woman over the border. But the woman says that Jesus can stay where he is and help her from afar **). – The same idea, the same situation – only more appropriately modelled on the idea – that we have already become acquainted with in the story of the centurion of Capernaum.

**) An example of how even the rationalist knows how to tame the contradictions of Scripture! Το Matth. 15, 21 εις τα μερη . . . . remarks Fritzsche p. 516: plurimi post Grotium εis hic versus notare ajunt, quibus ego non tam ideo assentior, quod Mark 7, 24 habet απηλθεν εις τα μεθορια τυρου και σιδωνος quam quod Jesum Hebraeorum terrae fines transgressum esse credibile non est. So therefore εις shall cease to be the region?

*) Mark 7, 31 ist εκ των οριων τυρου και σιδωνος die Gränze und Nachbarschaft von Phönicien, während Matthew C. 15, 22 τα ορια zu dem Gebiete als solchem gemacht hat. Τα ορια entſpricht hier den μερη V. 21.

**) Wilke, p. 578.


This idea that Jesus was working beyond the boundaries of his historical sphere of activity gave rise to the present account and subjugated the elements of the story of Elijah (1 Kings 17:8-24) and used them for its representation.

Luke changed the Phoenician woman into the centurion of Capernaum, but also used the hint of Mark, which pointed him to the story of Elijah, to introduce the widow, whose son Elijah raised from the dead, into the Gospel story as the widow of Nain ***). But that only the account of the Phoenician widow by Mark really led him to the story of Elijah, is clearly proved by Luke, when immediately after the account of the centurion, i.e., after he had introduced the idea of the “widow of Nain” into the Gospel story. Luke proves this very clearly when, immediately after the account of the centurion, i.e. after he has let the idea of the work come into his own, he takes the interest of a miracle that happened to a dead man from the Old Testament account and immediately lets it be followed by the awakening of the young man of Nain (C. 7,1-16.).

***) Wilke has attributed the woman of Sarepta, p. 570, to the widow of Nain. Nain again. Luke 7, 12: ως δε ηγγισεν τη πυλη της πολεως και ιδου . . . . χηρα. 1 Κοnig. 17, 10: και ήλθεν εις τον. πυλώνα της πόλεως και ιδού εκεί γυνή κήρα.

Luke 7, 15: και έδωκεν αυτόν τη μητρι αυτού. 1 Kings 17, 23 : και έδωκεν αυτό τη μητρί αυτού.

Luke 7, 16; και εδόξαζον τον θεόν λέγοντες· ότι προφήτης μέγας εγήγερται εν ημίν. 1 Kings 17, 24 : και είπεν ή γυνή … ιδού έγνωκα, ότι συ άνθρωπος θεού.


If the idea and the first elements of the account of the Phoenician woman have been betrayed, it would be pointless to talk about the so-called credibility. Weisse also says *) that “the story cannot be understood factually, otherwise Jesus would this time hardly be acquitted of the accusation of a narrow-minded bias in national antipathies, which is so little in keeping with his other way of thinking and acting. However, we have not yet found out how Jesus thought and acted in other ways, and we will only be able to examine this later **). Weisse continues: “If, on the other hand, we take the whole for a parable invented by himself, the harshness that lies in the first answer to the woman’s request is cancelled out by the intention in which the whole narrative is then designed from the outset. The point of the whole does not rest in that first answer, but in the woman’s reply. But even in this case the harshness of Jesus’ answer would remain, since he would always have stood as this particular, empirical person before those to whom he presented the parable, and would have taught them the idea that he could speak equally harshly in such situations. Supposing Jesus had wanted to speak of himself in a parable and such a lecture had been possible at all, he would have had to introduce himself completely appropriately from the outset, but not put himself in a crooked light, not present himself as excessively limited. Only in the community, when his person had become an ideal quantity and as such could more easily be set in motion in the dialectic of outlook, then when the universality of the Principle had long been assured and the limitation could be instantly lowered to a momentary semblance of dialectic, only then was it possible that those limited words could be formed. One was much too sure to take offence at them, and passed over them impartially, since in the resolution of the collision they already annulled their limitedness of their own accord. In any case, contradictions of this kind were unavoidable if a dialectic, which was carried out by Paul in the pure element of reflection, was to be vividly portrayed in the immediacy of historical appearance.

*) I, 5-7.

**) Strauss (1, 571.) takes the present account seriously in order to argue about how Jesus wanted to relate to the Gentiles; he thus gives us arguments that go into the blue, like most of his reasoning about points of this kind, since they are based on apologetic premises. The critic should leave such reflections to the theologians, who are far better suited to them!



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