§ 66. The demand for signs


§ 66.

The demand for signs.

Matth. 16, 1-4.

As a sign that he was a man of God, Elijah commanded the heavens and called down rain and fire (1 Kings 18:45. L Kings 1:10): let the Messiah do likewise, the Pharisees demand, if he really wants to prove himself as Messiah *). Jesus rejects their demand: from the colour of the sky they know how to determine the weather in the evening and in the morning, but they do not understand the signs of the times? But there shall no sign be given unto this generation, save that of Jonah.

*) Compare (also after the feeding of the people as in Mark and Matthew) John 6, 30 : τί ούν ποιείς συ σημείον, ίνα ίδωμεν και πιστευσωμεν σοι. Furthermore John 4, 48.


Matthew has brought together two sayings that have different points without defining their mutual relationship. Each of them would have been strong enough to reject the demand for signs: in the first, it is the signs of the times that point to the kingdom of heaven; in the second, it is Jesus as this person himself who guarantees the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew now comes to the report of Mark about the demand for signs, which he had already given above, transcribes it with the original punch line and enriches it, i.e. confuses it, by inserting Luke’s saying (C. 12, 54-56.) about the signs of the times *).

*) with a slight change, namely, that throughout it speaks of heaven.

Finally, this is the place to make a remark which has already found its proof in the above investigations. Matthew often reports the same fact twice; indeed, it probably happens to him that he relates the same event three times. In former times this phenomenon was explained, depending on the different presuppositions from which one proceeded, either in such a way that one said that the same thing could really have happened more than once, or one maintained that variations on the same theme had developed in the tradition of the congregation and that Matthew had always communicated them with the setting in which they were handed down to him by tradition. On the other hand, we do not even need to remember that the Gospels give us neither the empirical reality of Jesus’ life nor the later tradition that was formed in the view of the community: But no one will be able to deny that reality is rich and manifold, and does not repeat itself so tautologically as Matthew would have us believe, and that the first law of historical memory, when it presents itself in a coherent work, as well as of tradition, if it had really existed in this case and had rounded itself off into a certain type, is simplicity, i.e. at the same time true variety. i.e. at the same time true diversity. Let us, however, leave the abstract argument that the same thing has “happened” several times, or that it has been able to “take shape” in tradition, in a fine place, i.e., in the air, and let us remember that the tradition has really existed and rounded itself off into a certain type. If, however, we leave the abstract argumentation that the same thing has “happened” several times or “been able to take shape” in tradition in its place, i.e. in wishful thinking, and if, on the contrary, we remember the real and thousandfold proven fact, then it is beyond all doubt – we need only read over the writing of Mark – that the writer who freely creates a historical whole from the ideal conception does not repeat himself, observes the law of simplicity and diversity, and is therefore so fortunate as to bring about a coherent composition. Matthew’s outward and servile dependence on the letter of the scriptures he used and wrote out explained to us the tautologies of his historical works.


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