§ 81. Speech of Jesus about the last things

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by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



§ 81.

Speech of Jesus about the last things.

Matth Ch. 24. 25.

1. Introduction.

In a gospel where Jesus spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem and his return as two related events (Matthew 23:38-39), it seems quite strange when, immediately after Jesus again mentions the destruction of Jerusalem, the disciples ask him when it will happen. Similarly, it is strange for the same question to be asked in another gospel (Luke 21:7), where there has already been a detailed discussion of Jesus’ return and its timing (Luke 17:22-37). Since a clear sign of the Messiah’s return was also discussed earlier in Luke, it is a new contradiction for the disciples to ask again about the sign of the end times and fulfillment. The contradiction is heightened in another way when Matthew has the disciples ask: “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
These are already dogmatic expressions that arise only when the view they represent has developed to the point that the word finally finds a conventional way to remind everyone who hears it of everything related to that view. And yet, in both Matthew’s and Luke’s scriptures, Jesus’ statement that his return is rather the sign of the end times appears as something new and unexpected. In short, Luke and Matthew were not right to share speeches that undermine the character of the new and unexpected content of the latter, before conveying the speech about the end times to Mark.

*) Luk 21,7: πότε ούν ταύτα έσται; και τι το σημείον, όταν μέλλη ταύτα γίνεσθαι.

**) Matth 24, 3: και τί το σημείον της σής παρουσίας και της συντελείας του αιώνος.


Jesus was teaching in the temple when he raised the question about the Messiah being called the son of David and gave the speech about the scribes. After this speech he sat down opposite the treasury, saw how the people threw money into it, how the rich sacrificed much, and praised the widow who threw two farthings into it! As he left the temple, one of the disciples drew his attention to the mighty building of the temple. Jesus answered that not one stone of this building would be left upon another, and when he had sat down on the Mount of Olives in view of the temple – the appropriate scene for the following speech – the four most respected disciples, Peter, Jacob, John and Andrew, asked him apart from the others when this would happen and what the sign was that all this would be accomplished *).

*) Mark 13, 4: είπε ημίν, πότε ταύτα έσται; και τί το σημείον, οταν μέλλη πάντα ταύτα συντελείσθαι και


Matthew had no more space for the little picture of the widow after his speech against the Pharisees had been excessively extended. Besides, he wanted to immediately connect the speech about the last things with the last sentence of the speech against the hypocrites, which also talks about the destruction of Jerusalem and the return of Jesus. Therefore, he immediately jumps to the note that Jesus left the temple when one of his disciples – he says the disciples in general did it – drew his attention to the buildings of the temple, and Jesus prophesied their destruction. However, he forgot to write down the note to Mark (Chapter 12, Verse 35) that Jesus was last in the temple. Later, he does mention that Jesus sat down on the Mount of Olives, but he fails to note that it happened in view of the temple. And when he says “the disciples” asked him “privately,” he has copied a keyword from Mark and made it meaningless, as he no longer has a contrast to explain the meaning of “privately.”

Luke has also treated the matter very carelessly and copied it. He damaged the frame for the little picture of the widow – he does not say that Jesus was sitting opposite the treasury and saw the crowd throwing their gifts into it – he does not say that Jesus had occasion to speak about the destruction of the temple when he left it, and he also does not mention that the revelation about the last things happened on the Mount of Olives. He has copied it very carelessly: he does not even mention the disciples, only saying that some people, not focusing on what was relevant here and to which Jesus’ answer, “not one stone upon another,” also refers, drew attention to the mighty structure of the temple, not its decoration, “the beautiful stones and the offerings.”


The fourth [Evangelist]—this is important for the decision about the story of the adulteress—has learned from Luke and Mark that Jesus once gave a speech himself in “God’s treasury”!! *)

*) John 8, 20, ταύτα ελάλησεν εν τω γαζοφυλακίω, διδάσκων εν τω ιερω.
Mark 12, 35, διδάσκων εν τω ιερώ; V. 41, καθίσας κατέναντι του γαζοφυλακίου.
John 8, 2 [corrected from 3], καθίσας


2. The context of the speech.

The task of criticism with regard to the speech about the last things is greatly complicated by the nature of the three relationships in which we read it. If we want to know the general structure of the speech, we must first have anatomized the individual parts, and yet we cannot truly understand them in their correct or crippled organism if we have not already gained a view of the overall organism. We could perhaps help ourselves by first focusing our attention on the structure of the whole, without neglecting the examination of the individual parts, and then examining the details more closely without giving up the view of the whole – but what about the three different relationships! This zigzag of jumping back and forth, the interest in the question of when this speech, when each individual relationship of it was created, and also the prejudices that are rooted in the previous critical consideration of this speech!

We dare to do this in the following way, by first leaving aside the final passage, where Jesus addresses the disciples again with the parable of the fig tree and exhorts them to watchfulness.


a. The account of Matthew.

Matth. 24, 4 – 31.

Behold. There will come many who will pretend to be the Christ, and they will deceive many. You will hear rumours of war. Take heed that ye be not troubled. For all things must come to pass, but it is not yet the end. For nation shall rise against nation. There will be famine, pestilence and earthquakes here and there. All these are the beginning of the travail. (V. 4-8.)

“Then” – afterwards or at the same time? the progress is not made clear – you “will” be delivered up to tribulation and death. Dead? Then the whole of the following explanation, the following instruction as to how they should behave, is highly superfluous! And what is the tribulation they will suffer? It is not said! You will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake! How will they come into contact with the nations? It is not said. Many will be united and will betray and hate one another. Love will grow cold, lawlessness will take over. Many false prophets will arise! Why false prophets again? The deceivers have already been mentioned above! He who endures to the end will be blessed! And the Gospel must be proclaimed throughout the whole earth to all nations! And then comes the end! But why are these two things connected? Do the disciples have nothing to do with this proclamation? It is not said! (V. 9-14.)

When you see the abomination of desolation, proclaimed by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place, then it is high time to flee. But why “therefore”? Has this abomination and the fact that it will stand in the holy place been spoken of before? No! Or since it was said immediately before: “then comes the end”, is this rising of the abomination the end? No! For in what follows it is explained that this appearance of the abomination is only the increase of the misery, and only after this misery shall the end come with the coming of the Son of Man”! So there is no connection! “Then comes the end! “is said too early in v. 14. So escape is urgently necessary, and it is fortunate if one can escape comfortably. The distress will be as great as it has never been and will never be again. There follows another warning against false messiahs and false prophets. Why this warning three times? Then follows the description of the coming of the Son of Man – although it is a warning, so that no one will be deceived by the false Messiahs – but the description immediately ceases to be a parenthetical one, it even wants to be an inner link in the progress of the context, when with the words: “for where the carrion is, the eagles gather” it is explained that this coming is necessarily demanded and can certainly be expected, if all conditions for it are fulfilled. (V. 15 – 28.)


Only after the distress of those days will the sign of the Son of Man be seen and he himself will appear to hold judgment (V. 29-31). So how can his arrival be announced beforehand, when his sign is only now being given? And furthermore, why give the condition for the arrival of the Son of Man – “where the carcass is, there the vultures will gather” – if the condition on which the disciples should take notice was already given beforehand?

Matthew has confused the matter to the highest degree. Luke has done no better.

b. Luke’s account.

21, 8 -28.

Beware and be not deceived! Many are coming in my name, saying, I am! “And the time has come!” Why this remark? It goes without saying that Jesus wants to describe the future in which the crisis will occur. What is the point of this remark, then, if it is only to say that this is the beginning of the development of the catastrophe? But is that all it wants to say? It is disturbing and clumsy when the main thing, the arrival of the Son of Man, takes place only after several preludes. “But when you hear of wars and upheavals, do not be afraid. For this must happen first, but it is not yet the end. “(V. 8. 9.) Why not the end? Luke is silent and does not say that this is the beginning of the travail.


“Then said Jesus unto them,” he continues, “one nation shall rise up against another, and there shall be great earthquakes, and famines, and pestilences, and great terrors and signs shall appear in heaven.” (V. 10. 11.) But why here, when a great discourse is to be communicated, this interruption by the formula: then said etc. ? May the notice that people will rise against people be separated from the preceding warning not to be afraid because of the rumours of war? When it is added to that warning: “for this must happen first” – must not then, for the sake of emphasis, be followed immediately by the assurance: “for one nation will rise against another”? And what is the purpose of the signs and terrifying images in the sky, since now and in the following only the confusion on earth is described and is to be described? Only at the end, when the Son of Man is to appear, are the signs in the sky in their place; Luke also mentions them again at the end (v. 25-27), so he has placed them here much too early.

Therefore, because he has mentioned the heavenly signs at the wrong time, he must now, if he wants to describe the persecutions which the apostles will have to endure, take a new approach or rather jump backwards and let the Lord say: “But before all this (v. 12) they will lay their hands on you”, and it does not even help him to turn back in this way. For who will lay hands on them? Shall it happen before the nations and kingdoms rise up against each other and the Apostles are drawn into the turmoil of the general tumult? But it is only in this turmoil that it is possible, as Luke himself adds later, for the disciples to be led before kings and princes. It is not too much to ask if we think that for orientation and so that we can reflect in the confusion of this tumult, the necessity must be stated why the disciples must endure these sufferings; if Luke therefore merely adds the remark: But it will be a testimony to you (v. 13)”, this is not only too little, this suggestion of a success brought about by chance is not only very weak, but we can also be sure that Luke has overlooked how the sufferings of the disciples must rather serve as a testimony to the nations, princes and kings. After the remark that the disciples should not worry about how they could answer for themselves, for he, Jesus, would give them mouth and wisdom, they are still informed that they would be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives and friends: too much! For it was already said above that they would be handed over; too late! For in the meantime many other things have come in between; too crowded! When parents, brothers, etc. are mentioned, it is rather to be expected that a general war of all against all is to be described. That the remark, “and not a hair of your head shall perish,” is a later insertion, we will assume to the honour of Luke, and thus admit to Wilke; the oversight would be very great indeed, since it was just said that some of them would be killed. (V. 12-19.)


But when you see Jerusalem besieged – it says in the place where this “when you see” occurs in Matthew – then – we should expect what follows later, may one only flee, no! then – know that her desolation has come. As if this were such a difficult conclusion that Jesus had to impress it on the disciples beforehand. By this alone is this mention of Jerusalem judged. Then follows the reminder that the flight can no longer be postponed – as if this reminder were necessary! – For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people: thus Jerusalem, the Jewish people, form the centre of interest here. They shall fall by the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem shall lie trodden down with the nations, until the time be ready. Now follows the indication of the signs that will appear, the description of the fear that will seize all nations when the Son of Man comes – i.e., the fear that will be felt by all nations when the Son of Man comes. Luke does not say that after the distress which the disciples will suffer during the general warfare of all nations, and after the distress which will follow the desolation, the signs will appear in the sky announcing the coming of the Messiah, for he has already given a time when he says that Jerusalem will lie desolate until the time of the nations also comes; But he has not clearly stated this information, because it is supplemented and more closely determined for his person from another scripture, and he thinks that what he knows and darkly implies, every one of his readers would also know. (V. 20 – 27.)


When it is further said: “When all these things begin, lift up your heads on high, for your deliverance draws near! “(v. 28), and when only v. 29, after the interjection : And when, in v. 29, after the interjection “He spoke a parable to them” (v. 29), the disciples are admonished to watch for the signs of the times, there is no mistaking the overflow; the first admonition is Luke’s later addition, and it is he who, with his usual formula, has introduced the original admonition, thus interrupting the connection of the discourse very untimely.

If we now remove all the contradictions caused by the negligence of the two compilers or their late tendencies, if we give each member its true expansion by separating out the later insertions or by restoring to their true development the sentences that are constricted, often even stifled, by these insertions, we have again the original account that we read in the writing of Mark.


c. The Original Account.

Mark 13, 5 -27.

First the disciples are warned not to be deceived by false Messiahs and to be frightened by rumours of war; “for this must come to pass, but it is not yet the end; for nations shall rise against nations, etc.”. This is the beginning of the travail! ” (V. 5 – 9.)

They should only take care of themselves. For it will also come to them. They will be handed over to the synagogues and so on. They will stand before princes and kings “for a testimony unto them, and the gospel must first be preached among all nations. “But they shall not take care what they shall say then; they shall be given what they shall say, etc. General betrayal and warfare of the relatives against one another. He who endures to the end will be saved. (V. 9 -13.)

But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not stand, then it is the last time to flee. For in these days there will be a distress such as has never been and will not be again. God has shortened these days for the sake of the elect (vv. 14-20).

But in those days, after that trouble, the heavenly signs will appear, the Son of Man will be seen coming, and He will gather His elect through His angels (vv. 24-27).

These are four parts which are really connected and each of which has the right relationship to the other.

Luke has confused them all: he divided the first in half and already included the signs of the fourth in the second half. He had to force the transition to the second part, precisely because of those signs, and he poorly and uncertainly developed that part because he had already led the disciples to powers and authorities and had caused divisions among close relatives in the previous section (referring to Luke 12:11-12, 12:52-53). He made the third and fourth parts connected by forcefully inserting references to Jerusalem.


Matthew has dislocated and amputated the second member so much because he had already copied the saying about the apostles’ responsibility before the temporal authorities and about the war between the relatives from Mark above (C. 10, 17-22) and now only throws lost key words of the original relationship through each other in a colourful way in order not to let everything perish. In order to fill the gap to some extent, he forms the saying (v. 12): because lawlessness is rampant, the love of the many will grow cold *).

*) After the pattern of Jer. 7, 28: ἐξέλιπεν ἡ πίστις. Ps. 12, 1: εκλέλοιπεν ο όσιος, ώλιγώθησαν αι αλήθειαι των υιών των ανθρώπεν verse 2 of the same Psalm.

Matthew has unhappily changed the transition to the third member: when you see “thus”. It was Matthew who first added to the abomination of desolation “spoken of through Daniel the prophet”, Matthew emphasised the reference to Daniel’s prophecy more strongly when he said: “stand in the holy place,” Matthew then added the admonition: “Let him who reads it take heed! “(v. 15.) The later copyist, who inserted the same formulas into the writing of Mark (C. 13, 14), did not consider, as Wilke rightly remarks **), that Mark does not cite the Old Testament views crudely, but works them freely and sets them in flow with the body of his work.

**) p. 262.

Then one is to flee when one sees the abomination of desolation: “but pray, says Mark at the close of this exhortation, that your flight be not during the winter,” “nor also, adds Matthew v. 20, on the Sabbath.” How appropriate! The flight is not agreed upon in one day, but requires several days, so the winter, which has a longer duration, can be called an unfavourable time. Or should we think of the moment when the flight begins, well, then, if the Sabbath were really an insurmountable obstacle, it would be time to flee beforehand, since the appearance of the abomination of desolation is the warning sign that the distress will reach its peak. Matthew, however, only wanted to prove to us what he has already proved far too often, much to our chagrin, that it is precisely those who come later who use the circumstances of earlier times as categories and, if they are as clumsy as Matthew, use them very inappropriately.


Luke omitted the thought that the days of the need of the elect would be shortened (Mark 13, 20), because his diatribe about the fate of Jerusalem occupied him too much, and on the contrary, he put the matter very vaguely, when he says that Jemsalem would be trampled underfoot by the people, “until their time also shall be fulfilled. “In return, he has not worked out very clearly the thought which he has suppressed here, namely, not with a clear lind carried out relation to the last future (C. 18, 1-8).

The warning against false prophets and Messiahs, which follows in Mark (C. 13, 21 – 23) and is even more extensive in Matthew (C. 24, 23-26), has the more definite trait that the false Messiahs would live in the wilderness and in chambers and would try to lure people there – we do not read this warning in Luke’s speech and it is only a later insertion in the writing of Mark, as Wilke has correctly noted. Mark has settled the matter of the false Messiahs in the beginning of the speech, and he is not the man who is so easily guilty of tautologies. Luke, on his own hand, made a variation on the speech of Jesus about the last things in that monstrous travelogue and also introduced this variation with a warning against the false Messiahs (C. 17, 22 – 24), Matthew inserted this passage here so incongruously, elaborated it even further and, since it is once in the course, also the comparison that the coming of the Son of Man will be like the sudden and all-illuminating shining of lightning, and finally even the conclusion of that earlier speech of Luke – where the carrion is, the eagles gather (Luke 17, 37) – is immediately added (C. 24, 23-28): this is where the unbelievable confusion comes from, which we have already characterised as such above *).

*) Luke had already used the image of the lightning earlier: Jesus says: he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven (C. 10, 18. Cf. Is. 14, 12: πώς εξέπεσεν εκ του ουρανού και έωςφόρος). It is he who first used the same for the appearance of the Messiah. He took the saying about the eagles from Hab. 1, 8. Job 39, 30.


We only note that Matthew first speaks of a sign of the Son of Man, which will then appear when those signs are seen in heaven – as if these heavenly signs were not the last sign of the imminent coming of the Messiah! – We note only briefly that Matthew will know very little to answer the curious people who want to ask him what this sign consists of and how it relates to the preceding heavenly signs and then to the actual appearance of the Messiah – after all, his mention of this sign is only a reworking of the saying about the lightning, which he had just copied from Luke – we note just as briefly that Matthew used Luke’s note of the fear of the people at that time as a signpost to that saying of Zechariah that the tribes will lament **); we note at last that we have the decision on the question suggested by Wilke, whether the repeated mention of the false prophets (C. 24, 11. 24) already originated with Matthew or only with a late Glossator, we gladly leave, although we believe Matthew to be capable of everything and have come to know him as the master of incoherent exposition, to a time to decide which has less important and urgent things to deal with than ours, and now, after all these miserable drudgeries which the confusion of secondary relations had loaded from our throats, we pass on to the explanation of the primordial account.

**) Zacharias speaks of πασαι αι φυλαι, namely of Israel, and says of them κοψονται, C. 12, 10 – 14. Matth. 24, 30 has made it: κόψονται πάσαι αι φυλαί της γης.


3. The Resolution of the Original Account.

When the mystery of the origin of the Synoptic Gospels is solved, the question of the origin and meaning of the discourse on the coming of the Son of Man has not only received its proper form, but also its solution. The question is not only whether Luke, by virtue of his late experience, was able to confuse the original relation by the forcible mention of the destroyed Jerusalem, but rather, now that we have been freed from all groundless transcendence and are in a position to speak rationally and intelligently,
we must ask whether Mark’s speech looks as if it were written before the destruction of Jerusalem. Do we still consider answering the question with a decisive “No”? How? The speech is prompted by the fact that Jesus’ attention is drawn to the greatness and power of the temple building, he declares that not one stone of it will be left out of another, he sits down on the Mount of Olives in the face of the temple to speak of the last things and his Second Coming, and yet in the speech itself Jerusalem is not mentioned? Why is the temple, the holy city, the Jewish state not remembered? Because all this had long since come to an end! Because everything that was necessary had been agreed in the entrance when Jesus said: “Not one stone will be left upon another! An evangelist who wrote before the destruction of Jerusalem would have taken quite a different view of the temple, of Jerusalem, of the Jewish people. In that preliminary utterance of Jesus, Mark did enough to satisfy his interest, which demanded that the Lord had prophesied the destruction of the temple, now long past; now, however, in the speech proper, he describes the catastrophe – well, which one? – the one prophesied by the prophets, whose image he only gives more support by the force of the Christian principle *) and for whose representation he uses more limited empirical circumstances – such as those in Judea may flee to the mountains! – were used as illustrations or processed into categories. Those Jewish magicians who appeared as prophets and promised to redeem their people **) have become such a category; the desecration and destruction of the temple has also already become such a category – as a sign of the last crisis – hence that cautious and general expression “standing where it must not stand”, which Luke and Matthew no longer knew how to appreciate – and under the influence of this category is also formed the circumstance that Jesus held this speech in the face of the temple.

*) Just to remind you of a few things! That the messengers of salvation will be placed before kings, but will also stand before the highest worldly court, Mark learned from Ps. 119, 46: ελάλουν εν τοις μαρτυρίοις σου εναντίον βασιλεων και ουκ ηοχυνομην. That the people of Judea flee to the mountains Ezekiel 7, 16 taught him. To Mark 13, 15. 16 compare further : Jer. 6, 25: μη εκπορεύεσθε εις αγρών και εν ταις οδούς μη βαδίζετε, ότι δομφαία των εχθρών παροικεί κύκλωθεν; the latter provision Mark has not used, e, because he does not want to bring out the empirical conditions in their seriousness, rather he is far beyond them. Luke 21, 28 – Is. 51, 6. the signs of heaven find described Is. 31, 10. the eternity of the word of Jesus – Is. 51, 6. Is. 40, 8. Ps. 119, 89.

**) Compare Joseph. bell, Jud. Lib. VII, XI, 1. II, XIII, 5.


Mark has forestalled all dangerous questions about the length of the crisis by appealing to the divine reckoning of time and, moreover, he rejects them completely with the remark that one cannot know how soon the crisis will be resolved and with the admonition that one should rather pray and watch, since the hour could strike at any moment.


4. Exhortation to vigilance.

Mark I3, 28 -37.

But in the same generation, Mark thinks, in which he lives and writes, the crisis would come. Just as one can see from the transformation of the fig tree that summer is near, so also the disciples, when they see all this happening – so now it has not yet happened – should be certain that the end is near. But this generation would not pass until all things were done. Let this be as certain as the word of the Lord is steadfast and grounded. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not even the angels which are in heaven, save the Father. Watch and pray! You do not know when the time is. It is just as when a householder goes away and leaves his house, and gives his power to his servants, and tells each one his business, and the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore! Ye know not when the master of the house cometh, lest, when he cometh suddenly, he find you asleep. But what I say unto you, Jesus must say at the end, lest Mark betray the late age in which he wrote this discourse, I say unto all: Watch!

If patience were absolutely and in all cases necessary, then we have violated such a law by immediately setting our eyes on the original report and not working our way to it through Matthew’s confused account. But if we have violated one law, we can now all the more easily obey the one which requires brevity of us. We therefore only briefly note that this section of the speech of Mark is not only simple, clear and coherent, but also has a suitable conclusion and is in proper proportion to the form and extent of the preceding sections; of Luke’s revision of the passage we only note that he left the first half of it (Luk. 21, 29-33) intact, at least in terms of its limb structure, but that he reworked the second half into a very sluggish sermon on watchfulness, omitting the parable of the householder, deleting the remark that this applies to all, and in the middle between the two halves omitting the saying that no one knows the hour (vv. 34-36). We now proceed immediately to Matthew, and since we can no longer be alienated by the mass of repetitions and disturbing, at least progress-disturbing episodes in his work, since we can expect such a mass and torrent from the outset, we immediately set to work to explain how Matthew again arrived at such a superfluous accumulation of material.


The first section – the parable of the fig tree, the remark that everything will certainly be expected in this generation, but that no one except the Father, not even the angels – “not even the Son” in Mark’s scripture is a late interpolation – will know anything about the hour and day (Matthew 24:32-36): all of this is faithfully copied from Mark. However, when it says further: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the coming of the Son of Man,” and this comparison is further developed on the side of the image (v. 37-39), it is firstly disturbing that it is not further developed on the side of the matter, and disturbing that it is only later remarked: “You do not know when your Lord is coming” (v. 42), and the confusion reaches its highest point when the thought that then things will go miraculously and one will be accepted while the other is abandoned, which is not directly connected with either of the two remarks (v. 40-41), is developed in the middle. Matthew enriched and confused Mark’s speech by adding sayings from that variation which Luke composed using some of the same motifs, but in a different place. Luke, who also created the saying about the days of Lot, borrowed the saying about the days of Noah and the two people, one accepted and the other rejected (Luke 17:26-30, 34-36). (For the latter saying, compare Amos 4:7.)


Watch, Matthew continues, since you do not know at what hour your Lord is coming. Your Lord! Since the disciples, as servants of the Lord, are to be exhorted to watchfulness, how does the following parable of the householder, who would have watched if he had known when the thief was coming, fit in? It does not fit. Then comes a parable of the faithful servant, who is praised for his good fortune, because in the absence of his lord he obediently carried out his lord’s orders: But when that worthless servant says to himself, “The Lord will not come for a long time,” i.e. when in this way the transition is made to the counterpart, to the parable of the worthless servant, the confusion is delicious, for not a word had been said before about “that” servant. (Matth. 24, 42 – 51). But the matter does have meaning and context in Luke’s writing, which Matthew has so deliciously copied this time. Jesus had just spoken about his return and exhorted his followers to be watchful through a parable. Then Peter asked (that is, Luke is now processing the conclusion of Mark’s speech): “Lord, are you telling this parable to us or to everyone?” Jesus responds with the parable of the servant who faithfully carries out his master’s orders. Luke continues by describing the fate of the same servant based on his behavior; if that servant says in his heart, “My master is taking a long time to come,” he is given a different fate. But Matthew keeps the transition: “But if that servant” and makes him a servant whose fate is decided from the beginning, so he cannot explain how “that wicked servant” suddenly appears. (Luke 12:41-46.) In the speech about the last things, Luke leaves out the parable of the householder and the servant, and uses it to create the parable of the faithful or worthless servant. He adds the image of the householder and the thief (v. 39-40), and to keep the keyword “night watch” from being lost, he also creates another parable about the servants who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast. And what about Matthew? Because the Lord begins this parable with the exhortation, “Let your lamps be burning” (Luke 12:35-38), Matthew turns it into the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, by adding the contrast of the third parable (v. 42-46) to the situation and keywords of the first parable of Luke (v. 35-36).


5. The foolish and the wise virgins. 

Matth. 25, 1 -13.

Instead of dwelling on the remark that the exhortation to watchfulness had already extended far beyond all measure before the parable of the virgins, so that now the last thought of a measure is mocked by the new addition, we would rather draw attention to the fact that Matthew has not been able to fully process Luke’s parable, which he now wants to use for a new one.

It is usually assumed, or rather it is the generally prevailing explanation, that the virgins are the bridesmaids. But where is it heard that bridesmaids catch up with the bridegroom? Rather, he and his friends catch up with the bride. Is being clever or foolish of such extraordinary importance for the bridesmaids? We would think only for the bride; for her alone is it important to receive the bridegroom at the right time, and for her alone is the call: the bridegroom is coming! as all-important as it is assumed in the parable. Finally, how can bridesmaids so urgently, as the five in the parable do, demand to be admitted to the bridegroom, and what do the bridegroom’s words mean: I do not know you! if they are to be spoken to bridesmaids?

So nothing about bridesmaids! The bridegroom’s relationship to the bride is the basis of the collision of the parable. But does the bridegroom only come to the bride in the night to celebrate the wedding? And ten brides? Matthew has done nothing right in this parable. Instead of behaving like bridesmaids, the ten virgins behave like brides, and brides they are not, since, not to mention their number, they are treated like maids and servants by the Lord when he demands that they receive him with lamps on his nightly arrival. We have already explained the confusion when we said that the key words of Luke’s parable of the servants, “lamp, wedding, arrival of the Lord, late night”, ran together in Matthew’s mind, but did not unite into a sensible whole. Where he got the ten virgins from, he tells us himself when he immediately follows with the parable of the talents and suppresses Luke’s note that there were ten servants whom the Lord used for money transactions.


6. The talents.

Luke 19, 1,-28. Matth. 25, 14-39.

The king of Luke, on his departure, gives ten servants each a mina. When he returns, he calls them before him; the first, who gives account, has made ten minae, the second five, the third has kept his mina in the sweat cloth, and must now, while the other two are set over as many cities as they have gained minae, give his to him who has ten minae: for to every one that hath shall be given, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

In the end, where things become serious, Luke only allows three servants to appear – at the beginning, he mentions ten servants to create the contrast that the first one who comes out later has earned as much with his share as all of them had received at the beginning together. Therefore, Matthew thought he could suppress the number ten and use it differently, and to completely suppress it, he only uses the more specific numbers of Luke to the extent that he entrusts five talents to one of the three, two to the second, and only one to the last. He could not give each of them only one and the same amount, as he no longer had that contrast at the beginning, so he gives them different sums of money, and then has to let the first win five talents, the second two talents, while the last buries his in the ground. He has thus given the parable a new turn, making the difference in earnings a difference in initial endowment from the outset, without, however, giving this new turn any particular support, since he only follows Luke’s one moral, that to those who have, more will be given, and vice versa. The determination that each would be given according to their particular ability (v. 15) had only unconsciously forced him into it, due to his preferred structure of the entire narrative.


By the way, he has made the matter more abstract. The Lord is not a king, but, in order to be like the Lord of Mark (Mark 13, 34), only a man who travels. He therefore does not let the talented servants be set over cities, but enter into the joy of the Lord, and the talentless servant he sends to that place which he has learned to know from Luke (Luke 13, 28) and to which – again according to his abstract manner – he so often sends inhabitants, the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Luke has added a second interest to the parable, that the king returns because his citizens proclaim obedience to him by a message, and afterwards, when he had given an account to his servants, executes the disobedient subjects. Matthew was not able to make this move this time, and he made it much more inappropriate than Luke in this, or rather in that other parable of the wedding, and turned it into a formal war campaign against the rebels.

Matthew very wrongly believed himself justified in placing it here by the already unfortunate superscription which Luke gave to the parable, for even if Luke says that Jesus found himself moved to recite this parable in order to refute the opinion that the kingdom of God would be revealed immediately and not only after much labour, even Matthew did not dare to insert into the parable the remark that the Lord suddenly returned home – or he forgot it.

But with forethought he did not set the servants, who (v. 21, cf. Luke 16:10) were to be faithfully set over many things in small things, over so many cities as they had acquired talents, as Luke did, but “entered into the joy of the Lord,” because he has in mind the conclusion of the discourse, which describes the judgment and speaks of the sheep entering into the kingdom prepared for them, and of the goats being condemned to eternal punishment.


7. The sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left.

Matth. 25, 31-46.

If one would have asked Matthew how the present account of the judgment related to the one given above (C. 24, 31), he would have been very surprised, for he had long since forgotten it, when he now thought it fitting that the long discourse should finally end with an account of the judgment. Luke had encouraged him in this thought when he concluded his discourse on the last things with the exhortation that the disciples should make themselves worthy of being “brought before the Son of Man” (Luk 21:36). Matthew specifies that when the Son of Man (Mark 8, 38) comes in His glory, all nations will be brought “before Him” and when they are sorted out, the sheep will be placed at His right hand and the goats at His left. To this separation between sheep and goats the prophet Ezekiel had brought him (Ezek. 34, 17). The blessed of the Lord have done what the prophets Isaiah 58:7 and Ezekiel 18:7 commanded, and if in their righteous modesty they cannot find their way into their immense praise, the Lord reminds them of what He once said to the tongues, that the good that is done to the least of His brethren is done to Himself. Finally, the Lord thunders at the wicked on the left with the same words with which he had threatened earlier and which the righteous man of the O.T. had already called out to the wicked: “Depart from me, you wicked, you cursed! *)

*) Matth. 25, 41; πορευεσθε απ εμου οι κατηραμενοι (contrast ευλογημένοι v. 34).
Matth. 7, 23: αποχωρείτε απ’ εμού οι εργαζόμενοι την ανομίαν.
Ps. 119, 115: έκκλίνατε απ’ εμού πονηρευόμενοι.




Jesus Came (End of Story?)

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by Neil Godfrey

A little detail in the previous post has kept me awake at night (maybe as long as a minute), wondering. It is Matthew 28:18-19

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . .

Why hadn’t I noticed before now the link Jeffrey Peterson makes with Daniel 7:14?

He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

The connection brings me back to a question that keeps coming back to me: Is it possible that the apocalyptic prophecy we read Jesus pronouncing in Mark 13 and Matthew 24 was couched in metaphor that only the “spiritually blind” would mistake for literal meaning. The language was taken from the prophets. Isaiah 13 portrays the fall of Babylon in terms of the darkening of the sun, moon and stars. The cosmic images were metaphors. They were “fulfilled” when the city fell to enemy forces. David speaks of God coming down to earth in clouds to rescue him from certain death at the hands of his enemies. I don’t believe the psalmist expected anyone to read of God’s descent to earth literally any more than we are to imagine literal “cords of death” binding the psalmist or to believe that the psalmist was literally in “deep waters”. Psalm 18 . . .

The cords of death entangled me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
    and the foundations of the mountains shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    consuming fire came from his mouth,
    burning coals blazed out of it.
He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.
10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.
12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
    with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
    with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, Lord,
    at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

In the trial before the priests Jesus declares that the high priest will see the “second coming” or the coming of Jesus as the Danielic Son of Man. Matthew 26:63-64 . . .

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

I am pretty sure that the priest was dead before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

What were the authors of the gospels of Mark and Matthew thinking? It’s probably worth keeping in mind that not even the author of Daniel thought of his scenario of a heavenly Son of Man coming in clouds before the Ancient of Days was was a literal event. That was a metaphor for the rising up of the Maccabean kingdom on earth.

I think it’s as if they were thinking that the coming of the kingdom of God was ushered in with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew 28 seems to assure us of this interpretation when we read there that Jesus announces, in effect, that he is the Son of Man who has from that point on been given the power and authority to lead his appointed apostles in beginning to bring in more converts to his kingdom.

The Pauline epistles likewise speak of Christ victory over the cross representing the victory over the demon-ruled cosmos. The demons in Mark and Matthew knew their days were numbered the moment they saw Jesus appear in Galilee. Some Church Fathers also spoke of Christ “reigning from the cross”.

Paul’s letters — all of the NT letters — speak of a coming of Christ, never of a “second coming”. The first evangelists to weave together a story of the Son of Man out of the verses of the Jewish Scriptures and other literary and imperial allusions likewise spoke of his coming as the critical event. (I have coloured the passage in Psalm 18 that one might relate directly to classic baptism scene of Jesus in Mark and Matthew.) If his arrival in Galilee marked the “nearness” of the time then the empty tomb was the sign that that time had begun. Is there any room at all for a “second coming” in the original tale?

But this interpretation raises as many questions as it seems to resolve. As I said, it sometimes keeps me awake at night . . . for a moment, sometimes.


Two Mini-Apocalypses, Greek and Biblical & A Common Mythic Grammar

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by Neil Godfrey

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before….

There was once a very pious man who lived in a city that had been taken over by very wicked people.

Messengers from the deity came to visit that pious man and were very impressed with his hospitality toward them even though he did not know they were divine persons on a divine mission. These messengers also witnessed the wickedness of those around him.

So the divine agents stepped in to help that pious man in his troubles with the wicked ones

First, they (the messengers) warned the pious man that the deity was going to destroy all those wicked folk.

Meanwhile the wicked people not only ignored the warning that they also heard but continued in their wickedness, including forbidden sexual behaviour.

The pious man was so pious that he even tried to warn the wicked doers that they were about to be destroyed but they ignored him.

Finally, all the wicked perish.

Further destruction awaits those who ignore a specific divine interdiction.

I dare say most readers would have recognized the story of Lot, his daughters and wife, and the people of Sodom.

Ancient persons more familiar with Homeric epics would have recognized the story of Odysseus’s homecoming.

I should emphasize that I am not arguing for influence between the Odyssey and the biblical account, nor a common source. Rather, I suggest that as both accounts share a considerable number of motifs, a similar “grammar” underlies each myth.

(Louden, 96)

In Genesis 19 we read how Lot welcomed two strangers not realizing they were in fact angels. As we know, like Abraham before him he passed the hospitality test. Odysseus was similarly tested by a divinity in disguise:

Athene now appeared upon the scene. She had disguised herself as a young shepherd, with all the delicate beauty that marks the sons of kings. A handsome cloak was folded back across her shoulders, her feet shone white between the sandal-straps, and she carried a javelin in her hand. She was a welcome sight to Odysseus, who came forward at once and accosted her eagerly. ‘Good-day to you, sir,’ he said. ‘Since you are the first person I have met in this place, I hope to find no enemy in you, but the saviour of my treasures here and of my very life; and so I pray to you as I should to a god and kneel at your feet. (Odyssey, Book 13 Rieu translation)

The goddess Athene repeatedly helps and advises Odysseus in order for him to be able to reclaim his household from the evil suitors who have taken over everything of his. The suitors were all earnestly hoping to have Odysseus wife Penelope, but in the meantime they slept with Odysseus’s maidservants, wasting his resources, and acting violently towards strangers and guests, so that their “insolence and violent acts cry out to heaven.”

The evil suitors merely laughed at the warnings of their imminent doom. Continue reading “Two Mini-Apocalypses, Greek and Biblical & A Common Mythic Grammar”


Constructing Jesus and the Gospels: Apocalyptic Prophecy

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by Neil Godfrey

destruction_jerusalemPassages that for modern fundamentalist readers refer doctrinally to Jesus’ death and some imaginary “end time” in some indefinite future:

Luke 12:49-53

49 I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled?
50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished
51 Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
52 for there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three
53 They shall be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law.

Luke 21:23

23 Woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! for there shall be great distress upon the land, and wrath unto this people.

Luke 23:28-30

28 But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
29 For behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the breasts that never gave suck
30 Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.

Luke 21:6

6 As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in which there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

Luke 21:20

20 But when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand.

Luke 21:24-27

24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led captive into all the nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
25 And there shall be signs in sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows
26 men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.
27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

Luke 17:33-37

33 Whosoever shall seek to gain his life shall lose it: but whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
34 I say unto you, In that night there shall be two men on one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
35 There shall be two women grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
36 There shall be two men in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left
37 And they answering say unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Where the body is, thither will the eagles also be gathered together.


The Literary Form of the Gospels

A proper understanding of literary form gives us a historical meaning.

Much depends on our analysis of the literary form of the gospels. If we conclude on the basis of Gospel passages like those above that the gospels are novella-like apocalypses or apocalyptic prophecies, a variant of writings like Daniel, then by definition they are written with reference to historical events known to their original audience.

When the above passages are read with the knowledge of those events, the war with Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem, then they refer both to the death of Jesus and the catastrophic fate of Jerusalem.

Thus a proper understanding of literary form gives us a historical meaning. (Clarke W. Owens Son of Yahweh: The Gospels as Novels) Continue reading “Constructing Jesus and the Gospels: Apocalyptic Prophecy”


Failed prophecies — forgotten or reinterpreted?

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by Neil Godfrey

Just a quick thought. I am still attempting to get a handle on how scholars treat the “Little Apocalypse” of Mark 13 and its counterparts in Matthew and Luke. Most recently I have been reading Theissen’s attempts to link it with the “Caligula crisis” of 40 ce.

I hear often enough that it matters not that the prophecy never “came true” as expected, since religious groups are never put off by their failures but always reinterpret them. They maintain their faith in them, we are told, and set them for another time in the near future.

But that’s not quite true. I know that the Seventh Day Adventists and other groups have a long list of failed prophecies that they have swept under their carpets. They are not reinterpreted. They go out of print and into the black hole of forgotten details that “never happened.”

What is reinterpreted is some classic or canonical prophecy that is an established pillar of their texts or prophetic visions. So today religious groups continue to reinterpret Mark 13 and Revelation in the light of whatever is happening today. But when they get too daring and say something that is proved false, that prophetic interpretation is dropped. The European Common Market was to emerge in 1972 or 1975 as the great Beast power at one point. That is forgotten, but Revelation and Daniel still hold centre stage for these prophecy buffs.

But in the case of Mark 13, this was a new text. If it was created in 40 ce as Theissen and others argue, then why on earth was it not as quietly dropped from view as a prophecy that 1972 or 1975 was to mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation II? It did not have the canonical status to have any staying power.

No doubt there is much I don’t understand about this. But I do not understand the argument usually offered. Why was it kept in the church if it indeed was a predicting an imminent threat to the Temple in Jerusalem in either 40 or 70 ce?

I have other suspicions about the prophecy, but I also want to know if there really is something I’m missing with the standard rationalization.

I just don't get it!
Image by larryosan via Flickr


Who sees the Son of Man coming, according to Mark’s gospel?

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by Neil Godfrey

Mark 13:25-26:

and the stars of the heaven shall be falling, and the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken. And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in clouds with much power and glory

Often noncanonical (and sometimes canonical) Jewish literature of the Second Temple period equates stars of heaven with angels. Powers of heaven are certainly angelic powers.

So is Mark here saying that it is these angels who will see the Son of Man coming etc?

What does the Greek in this case suggest re the ones who see?


When they saw the Son of Man coming in the clouds

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by Neil Godfrey

Imagine the author of the Gospel of Mark wrote about the coming of the Son of Man in clouds from the same perspective as frequently found amongst the Jewish Wisdom, Prophetic and History writings. (Leave aside for this discussion the perspective of the Deuteronomist, who on other grounds appears to have spawned a separate tradition about the deity anyway — see posts on Margaret Barker’s work for details.)

Last time I posted something here without taking time to check my bookshelves to remind myself what “the professional scholars” had written I got thoroughly roasted. That was a good, if lazy, way to be brought up to speed. Now my excuse is that I am separated by thousands of kilometers from my library, and am likely to remain so for some months yet. But what’s a blog for if not to toss out off the cuff thoughts anyway? Besides, I know the following interpretation is by no means novel. But it is one that I have been a long time refusing to accept — till about now.

What I’m moving towards is the view that Mark’s depiction of the coming of the Son of Man in clouds was intended to be as metaphoric as his description of the stars falling from heaven. Further, when he spoke of everyone “seeing” this advent, he really implied a “spiritual” seeing just as surely as he meant the miracles of Jesus to be interpreted as a restoring of spiritual insight.

Let’s imagine the same author did not call Peter “Satan” because he got his timing wrong over exactly when Jesus would act apocalyptically as in returning with angelic hosts and burning up the old physical world before inaugurating a new cosmic order, but because he was opposed to the very idea root and branch, totally, absolutely. Mark’s Jesus did not tell Peter, “Yes yes, you are right, I will come as a conquering hero, but not just yet — I have to make atonement for sins first, THEN I can do the world-conquering thing, you Satan you!” Continue reading “When they saw the Son of Man coming in the clouds”


The little apocalypse of Mark 13 – historical or creative prophecy?

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by Neil Godfrey

The “little apocalypse” or “Olivet prophecy” of Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21 is often cited as a key passage for dating the gospels. The idea is to match the events described in this passage with what seems to be the best fit historically.

Others have questioned whether we are right to attempt to match the specific events listed (wars, famines, etc) to historical occurrences at all. See, for example, eklektekuria’s comment on another post here.

Picking up from that latter thought I have listed below the OT quotations, allusions and influences on Mark 13 as analyzed by Howard Clark Kee in his chapter titled The Function of Scriptural Quotations and Allusions in Mark 11-16 (1975).

Red are the quotations

Purple are the allusions

Blue are the influences

I also think it is very significant that a common literary trope in epics and novels was to precede a climactic scene involving a hero’s contact with death with a detailed point by point divine prophecy. This was the case with Odysseus just prior to a crisis in which he was to lose his entire crew before reaching his final destination (one comparative summary of this here). Sibyl likewise delivered a step by step prophecy to Aeneas before he descended into Hades. Hellenistic romances (popular novellas such as the story of Jason and the Argo) often included the same. (Would give more examples from the turn of the century era but I’m away from my library at the moment.)

Question: If this passage that obviously refers to the historical destruction of Jerusalem is nested so profusely in literary allusion and with scant attention to anything necessarily drawn from historical memory, would not such a “literary fabrication” suggest a date of composition that is long after the event, when personal historical memories were no longer?

Another question, and one implied by Kee: The extent of literary allusion in this passage is comparable to the OT allusions that make up the Passion Narrative and the preceding chapters 11-12. This would argue for this whole section, 11-16, being the creative work of the one mind. Is it not special pleading to suggest that the literary allusions in Mark 13 are evidence of a separate composition that was squeezed in to the gospel with some minor editing here and there?

Mark 13

[1] And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!

[2] And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

Micah 3:12 Zion shall be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest.

Jeremiah 26:6, 18 And I will make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth. . . . Zion shall be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest.

[3] And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
[4] Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?

Daniel 12:7 (LXX) And one said to the man clothed in linen, who was over the water of the river, When will be the end of the wonders which thou has mentioned?

Daniel 12:6; 8:19 And one said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long shall the fulfilment of these wonders be?” . . . . And he said, “Look, I am making known to you what shall happen in the latter time of the indignation: for at the appointed time the end shall be.”

Daniel 12:8 (LXX) Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, “My lord, what shall be the end of these things?”

[5] And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:
[6] For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

Isaiah 45:18 (LXX) Thus saith the Lord that made the heaven, this God that created the earth, . . . I am the Lord, and there is none beside.

Daniel 7:8, 11, 20, 25 . . . and, behold, there were eyes as the eyes of a man in this horn, and a mouth speaking great things. . . . I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which that horn spoke . . . . and concerning it ten horns that were in its head, and the other that came up, and rooted up some of the former, which had eyes, and a mouth speaking great things, and his look was bolder than the rest. . . . And he shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High . . . .

Isaiah 14:13 But thou saidst in thine heart, I will go up to heaven, I will set my throne above the stars of heaven: I will sit on a lofty mount, on the lofty mountains toward the north

Daniel 8:10; 11:36 . . . and it magnified itself to the host of heaven; and there fell to the earth some of the host of heaven and of the stars, and they trampled on them . . . And he shall do according to his will, and the king shall exalt and magnify himself against every god, and shall speak great swelling words, and shall prosper until the indignation shall be accomplished: for it is coming to an end.

[7] And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.

Daniel 11 11:1-45

1QM The War Scroll

Daniel 2:29, 45 (LXX Th) O king: thy thoughts upon thy bed arose as to what must come to pass hereafter: and he that reveals mysteries has made known to thee what must come to pass. . . . the great God has made known to the king what must happen hereafter

Daniel 2:28, 29 (LXX), 30, 45 But there is a God in heaven revealing mysteries, and he has made known to king Nabuchodonosor what things must come to pass in the last days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are as follows, O king: thy thoughts upon thy bed arose as to what must come to pass hereafter: and he that reveals mysteries has made known to thee what must come to pass. Moreover, this mystery has not been revealed to me by reason of wisdom which is in me beyond all others living, but for the sake of making known the interpretation to the king, that thou mightest know the thoughts of thine heart. . . . the great God has made known to the king what must happen hereafter: and the dream is true, and the interpretation thereof sure.

Compare the language of eschatological mystery in Daniel 9:26; 11:27 (LXX) And after the sixty-two weeks, the anointed one shall be destroyed, and there is no judgment in him: and he shall destroy the city and the sanctuary with the prince that is coming: they shall be cut off with a flood, and to the end of the war which is rapidly completed he shall appoint the city to desolations. . . . .  And as for both the kings, their hearts are set upon mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table; but it shall not prosper; for yet the end is for a fixed time.

[8] For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.

Isaiah 19:2 I will set Egyptians against Egyptians; everyone will fight against his brother, and everyone against his neighbour, city against city, kingdom against kingdom.

2 Chronicles 15:6 So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity.

Daniel 11:25; 2:40 And his strength and his heart shall be stirred up against the king of the south with a great force; and the king of the south shall engage in war with a great and very strong force; but his forces shall not stand, for they shall devise plans against him . . . . and a fourth kingdom, which shall be strong as iron: as iron beats to powder and subdues all things, so shall it beat to powder and subdue.

Sibylline Oracles 3:635 Woe, woe to thee, O Crete! To thee shall come A very painful stroke, and terribly Shall the Eternal sack thee; and again Shall every land behold thee black with smoke, Fire ne’er shall leave thee, but thou shalt be burned. (See the context for similar, here.)

4 Ezra 13:31 And one shall undertake to fight against another, one city against another, one place against another, one people against another, and one realm against another.

First Enoch 99:4 (Typo for 97:5? In those days the nations shall be overthrown) See the text here.

2 Baruch 27:7; 70:3-8 (27:6 And in the fifth part famine and the withholding of rain.) And in the sixth part earthquakes and terrors . . . .   And they shall hate one another, And provoke one another to fight, And the mean shall rule over the honorable, And those of low degree shall be extolled above the famous. And the many shall be delivered into the hands of the few, And those who were nothing shall rule over the strong, And the poor shall have abundance beyond the rich, And the impious shall exalt themselves above the heroic. And the wise shall be silent, And the foolish shall speak, Neither shall the thought of men be then confirmed, Nor the counsel of the mighty, Nor shall the hope of those who hope be confirmed. And when those things which were predicted have come to pass, Then shall confusion fall upon all men, And some of them shall fall in battle, And some of them shall perish in anguish,  And some of them shall be destroyed by their own. Then the Most High peoples whom He has prepared before, And they shall come and make war with the leaders that shall then be left. And it shall come to pass that whoever gets safe out of the war shall die in the earthquake, And whoever gets safe out of the earthquake shall be burned by the fire, And whoever gets safe out of the fire shall be destroyed by famine.

Isaiah 7:21(?); 13:13; 14:30; 19:22 Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger. . . . . And the firstborn of the poor shall feed, and the needy shall lie down in safety: and I will kill thy root with famine, and he shall slay thy remnant. . . . . And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: . . . .

Jeremiah 23:19 Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked.

Ezra 5:12 But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.

Haggai 2:6 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it [is] a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry [land];

Zechariah 14:4 And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which [is] before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, [and there shall be] a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.

[9] But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.

Daniel 7:25 And he shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High

[10] And the gospel must first be published among all nations.

Zechariah 2:10; 14:16 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst, says the Lord. . . . . And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

[11] But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.

Exodus 4:1 And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.

Numbers 22:35 And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak.

Jeremiah 1:9 Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.

[12] Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.

Micah 7:2, 6 (Targ) The good [man] is perished out of the earth: and [there is] none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net. . . .  For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies [are] the men of his own house.

[13] And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

Daniel 11:32 And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.

4 Ezra 5:9; 6:25 And salt waters shall be found in the sweet, and all friends shall conquer one another; then shall reason hide itself, and wisdom shall withdraw into its chamber, . . . . And it shall be that whoever remains after all that I have foretold to you shall himself be saved and shall see my salvation and the end of my world.

Jubilees 23:19 And they shall strive one with another, the young with the old, and the old with the young, the poor with the rich, the lowly with the great, and the beggar with the prince, on account of the law and the covenant; for they have forgotten commandment, and covenant, and feasts, and months, and Sabbaths, and jubilees, and all judgments.

2 Baruch 70:3 And they shall hate one another, and provoke one another to fight . . .

See Daniel 11 and 12

[14] But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:

Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11 . . . and in the midst of the week my sacrifice and drink-offering shall be taken away: and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolations; and at the end of time an end shall be put to the desolation. . . .  And seeds shall spring up out of him, and they shall profane the sanctuary of strength, and they shall remove the perpetual sacrifice, and make the abomination desolate. . . . And from the time of the removal of the perpetual sacrifice, when the abomination of desolation shall be set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.

1 Maccabees 1:54 Now the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in the hundred forty and fifth year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Juda on every side

Genesis 19:17 And it came to pass when they brought them out, that they said, Save thine own life by all means; look not round to that which is behind, nor stay in all the country round about, escape to the mountain, lest perhaps thou be overtaken together with them.

[15] And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house:
[16] And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.
[17] But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!

4 Ezra 6:21 Infants a year old shall speak with their voices, and women with child shall give birth to premature children at three and four months, and these shall live and dance.

[18] And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.
[19] For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.

Daniel 12:1 (LXX-Th) And at that time Michael the great prince shall stand up, that stands over the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of tribulation, such tribulation as has not been from the time that there was a nation on the earth until that time: at that time thy people shall be delivered, even every one that is written in the book.

Joel 2:2-3 for a day of darkness and gloominess is near, a day of cloud and mist: a numerous and strong people shall be spread upon the mountains as the morning; there has not been from the beginning one like it, and after it there shall not be again even to the years of many generations. Before them is a consuming fire, and behind them is a flame kindled: the land before them is as a paradise of delight, and behind them a desolate plain: and there shall none of them escape.

First Enoch 38:2; 39:6 When righteousness shall be manifested in the presence of the righteous themselves, who will be elected for their good works duly weighed by the Lord of spirits; and when the light of the righteous and the elect, who dwell on earth, shall be manifested; where will the habitation of sinners be? And where the place of rest for those who have rejected the Lord of spirits? It would have been better for them, had they never been born. . . . Countless shall be the number of the holy and the elect, in the presence of God for ever and for ever.

[20] And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.

Daniel 12:6-7 And one said to the man clothed in linen, who was over the water of the river, When will be the end of the wonders which thou has mentioned? And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was over the water of the river, and he lifted up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and sware by him that lives for ever, that it should be for a time of times and half a time: when the dispersion is ended they shall know all these things.

First Enoch 80:2 Then I looked on all which was written, and understood all, reading the book and everything written in it, all the works of man;

4 Ezra 4:26 He answered me and said, “If you are alive, you will see, and if you live long, you will often marvel, because the age is hastening swiftly to its end.

2 Baruch 20:1 Therefore, behold! the days come, And the times shall hasten more than the former, And the seasons shall speed on more than those that are past, And the years shall pass more quickly than the present (years).

[21] And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not:
[22] For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.

Deuteronomy 13:1-3 (LXX) And if there arise within thee a prophet, or one who dreams a dream, and he gives thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass which he spoke to thee, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye know not; ye shall not hearken to the words of that prophet, or the dreamer of that dream, because the Lord thy God tries you, to know whether ye love your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Linked verbally with Daniel 11:36-45 And he shall do according to his will, and the king shall exalt and magnify himself against every god, and shall speak great swelling words, and shall prosper until the indignation shall be accomplished: for it is coming to an end. And he shall not regard any gods of his fathers, nor the desire of women, neither shall he regard any deity: for he shall magnify himself above all. And he shall honour the god of forces on his place: and a god whom his fathers knew not he shall honour with gold, and silver, and precious stones, and desirable things. And he shall do thus in the strong places of refuge with a strange god, and shall increase his glory: and he shall subject many to them, and shall distribute the land in gifts. And at the end of the time he shall conflict with the king of the south: and the king of the north shall come against him with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and they shall enter into the land: and he shall break in pieces, and pass on: and he shall enter into the land of beauty, and many shall fail: but these shall escape out of his hand, Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. And he shall stretch forth his hand over the land; and the land of Egypt shall not escape. And he shall have the mastery over the secret treasures of gold and silver, and over all the desirable possessions of Egypt, and of the Libyans and Ethiopians in their strongholds. But rumors and anxieties out of the east and from the north shall trouble him; and he shall come with great wrath to destroy many. 45 And he shall pitch the tabernacle of his palace between the seas in the holy mountain of beauty: but he shall come to his portion, and there is none to deliver him.

Daniel 4:2-3 (LXX) I saw a vision, and it terrified me, and I was troubled on my bed, and the visions of my head troubled me. And I made a decree to bring in before me all the wise men of Babylon, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream.

[23] But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.
[24] But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,

Isaiah 13:10; 34:4 For the stars of heaven, and Orion, and all the host of heaven, shall not give their light; and it shall be dark at sunrise, and the moon shall not give her light. . . . And all the powers of the heavens shall melt, and the sky shall be rolled up like a scroll: and all the stars shall fall like leaves from a vine, and as leaves fall from a fig-tree.

Ezekiel 32:7, 8 And I will veil the heavens when thou art extinguished, and will darken the stars thereof; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bodies that give light in the sky, shall be darkened over thee, and I will bring darkness upon the earth, saith the Lord God.

Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15 Before them the earth shall be confounded, and the sky shall be shaken: the sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their light. . . . The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord come. . . .  The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their light.

4 Ezra 5:4 But if the Most High grants that you live, you shall see it thrown into confusion after the third period; and the sun shall suddenly shine forth at night, and the moon during the day.

Ascension of Moses 10:5 And the horns of the sun shall be broken and he shall be turned into darkness; And the moon shall not give her light, and be turned wholly into blood. And the circle of the stars shall be disturbed.

[25] And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.

Isaiah 34:4 And all the powers of the heavens shall melt, and the sky shall be rolled up like a scroll: and all the stars shall fall like leaves from a vine, and as leaves fall from a fig-tree.

[26] And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.

Daniel 7:13-14 I beheld in the night vision, and, lo, one coming with the clouds of heaven as the Son of man, and he came on to the Ancient of days, and was brought near to him.  And to him was given the dominion, and the honour, and the kingdom; and all nations, tribes, and languages, shall serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom shall not be destroyed.

Isaiah 19:1 Behold, the Lord sits on a swift cloud, and shall come to Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and their heart shall faint within them.

[27] And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

Zechariah 2:6, 10; Ho, ho, flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord: for I will gather you from the four winds of heaven, saith the Lord, . . . . Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Sion: for, behold, I come, and will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord.

Isaiah 27:13 And it shall come to pass in that day that they shall blow the great trumpet, and the lost ones in the land of the Assyrians shall come, and the lost ones in Egypt, and shall worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

Deuteronomy 30:4 If thy dispersion be from one end of heaven to the other, thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and thence will the Lord thy God take thee.

Zechariah 14:5 And the valley of my mountains shall be closed up, and the valley of the mountains shall be joined on to Jasod, and shall be blocked up as it was blocked up in the days of the earthquake, in the days of Ozias king of Juda; and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with him.

Isaiah 27:12; 11:10 And it shall come to pass in that day that God shall fence men off from the channel of the river as far as Rhinocorura; but do ye gather one by one the children of Israel. . . . And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall arise to rule over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust, and his rest shall be glorious.

Ezekiel 32:9f; 39:27 And I will provoke to anger the heart of many people, when I shall lead thee captive among the nations, to a land which thou hast not known.  And many nations shall mourn over thee, and their kings shall be utterly amazed, when my sword flies in their faces, as they wait for their own fall from the day of thy fall. . . . . Yet there shall be none to terrify them when I have brought them back from the nations, and gathered them out of the countries of the nations: and I will be sanctified among them in the presence of the nations.

Psalm 106:47 (105 in LXX) Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the heathen . . .

Psalm 147:2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem; and he will gather together the dispersed of Israel.

[28] Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near:

Daniel 12:8 (LXX only) And I heard, but I understood not: and I said, O Lord, what will be the end of these things?

Cf Mark 11:13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.

[29] So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.

Zephaniah 1:7, 14 Fear ye before the Lord God; for the day of the Lord is near; for the Lord has prepared his sacrifice, and has sanctified his guests. . . .  For the great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and very speedy; the sound of the day of the Lord is made bitter and harsh.

[30] Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

Daniel 12:7 (LXX) And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was over the water of the river, and he lifted up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and sware by him that lives for ever, that it should be for a time of times and half a time: when the dispersion is ended they shall know all these things.

[31] Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.

Isaiah 51:6 Lift up your eyes to the sky, and look on the earth beneath: for the sky was darkened like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and the inhabitants shall die in like manner: but my righteousness shall not fail.

Daniel 12:7 And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was over the water of the river, and he lifted up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and sware by him that lives for ever, that it should be for a time of times and half a time: when the dispersion is ended they shall know all these things.

Ezekiel 31:1ff To whom hast thou compared thyself in thy haughtiness?  Behold, the Assyrian was a cypress in Libanus, and was fair in shoots, and high in stature: his top reached to the midst of the clouds.  The water nourished him, the depth made him grow tall; she led her rivers round about his plants, and she sent forth her streams to all the trees of the field.  Therefore was his stature exalted above all the trees of the field, and his branches spread far by the help of much water.  All the birds of the sky made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches all the wild beasts of the field bred; the whole multitude of nations dwelt under his shadow. . . . Therefore thus saith the Lord; Because thou art grown great, and hast set thy top in the midst of the clouds, and I saw when he was exalted;  Therefore I delivered him into the hands of the prince of the nations, and he wrought his destruction.  And ravaging strangers from the nations have destroyed him, and have cast him down upon the mountains: his branches fell in all the valleys, and his boughs were broken in every field of the land; and all the people of the nations are gone down from their shelter, and have laid him low.

Amos 5:18ff Woe to you that desire the day of the Lord! what is this day of the Lord to you? whereas it is darkness, and not light. As if a man should flee from the face of a lion, and a bear should meet him; and he should spring into his house, and lean his hands upon the wall, and a serpent should bite him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? and is not this day gloom without brightness?

Isaiah 2:12 For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and haughty, and upon every one that is high and towering, and they shall be brought down

Zephaniah 1:7 Fear ye before the Lord God; for the day of the Lord is near; for the Lord has prepared his sacrifice, and has sanctified his guests.

Zechariah 14:1 Behold, the days of the Lord come

[32] But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Daniel 12:13 But go thou, and rest; for there are yet days and seasons to the fulfillment of the end; and thou shalt stand in thy lot at the end of the days.

cf. in Daniel 2:28, 45; 10:14; 11:20, where in LXX εσχατα των ημερων is used But there is a God in heaven revealing mysteries, and he has made known to king Nabuchodonosor what things must come to pass in the last days. . . . the great God has made known to the king what must happen hereafter . . . . and I have come to inform thee of all that shall befall thy people in the last days: for the vision is yet for many days. . . . and yet in those days shall he be broken

Zechariah 14:7 But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.

Psalm of Solomon 17:23 (=21 in LXX) Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of David, At the time in the which Thou seest, O God, that he may reign over Israel Thy servant

[33] Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.
[34] For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
[35] Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:
[36] Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
[37] And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.


“The little apocalypse” — its literary function and context

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by Neil Godfrey

Immediately before the plot in Mark’s gospel reaches the point where Jesus experiences his final dramatic adventure — passing through betrayal, trial and death before entering the heavenly kingdom — Jesus delivers a long prophetic speech to his disciples. This inclusion of a detailed prophecy prior to the the hero launching out into a new and climactic phase of extreme life-threatening trial is a common feature of ancient fiction. Mark has modified the focus of this prophecy by having it target the followers of the hero. More correctly, it targets Mark’s audience. A similar variation had been pioneered by Virgil. The effect of this adaptation upon an ancient audience familiar with this standard literary feature would have been to invite the audience to identify themselves with the hero in the final phase of the story. They would have been looking for points of contact between the details of the prophecy and the final days of Jesus’ life.

Mark 13 was therefore not inserted awkwardly into Mark’s gospel some time after it had been written, but follows a literary convention of the day, is woven into the main plot, and is turned to invite the original audience to identify their own experiences of persecution with those of Jesus.

Other literature with “little apocalypses”

Homer’s Odyssey, Apollonius’s Argonautica, Virgil’s Aeneid, Xenophon’s Ephesian Tale and Heliodorus’s Ethiopian Story also contain these sorts of prophecies where a prophet outlines to the hero and his followers the sequence of adventures that they must undergo in order to reach their final goal.

Odyssey (book 11)

In The Odyssey the goddess Circe told Odysseus that he must visit the place of the dead, Hades, and return, before he could go on to reach his final destination. But she subsequently gave him a much longer prophecy which detailed specific trials he would encounter in this world in order to arrive home after many years of waiting. To deliver this prophecy she took Odysseus aside, away from the rest of his crew, and sat down before speaking. She warned him that he must face the temptation of the Sirens, and explained to him how he could overcome that. But that would be minor compared with what was to follow — the test of passing through Scylla and Charybdis. More advice and warnings followed. Some of his men would certainly be lost. A fig-tree in full leaf would feature in the coming adventures. Throughout this prophecy, indeed its stated purpose, are warnings to take heed and listen carefully if he hoped to survive to the end.

Argonautica (book 2)

In the Argonautica, the old sightless Phineus tells Jason and his crew as much as he is permitted by Zeus. He explained that heaven wills only that the broad outline be revealed, that certain details are ordained to be concealed. First they will encounter the two Cyanean Rocks that will threaten to crash in on them. Phineus stresses that his warnings must be carefully heeded if they are to survive. Again, that is only the beginning of what must happen, Phineus informs them. More instructions and warnings follow. And specific things and peoples that they will see are laid out so that they can know they are drawing closer to their final goal. This prophet tells them what to expect to see when they do finally reach it.

Aeneid (book 6)

Virgil makes some changes to this well-known literary function of the grand prophecy. He extends it to become a message for his audience and only secondarily as an insight into the future for Aeneas.

Aeneas first asked the Sybil about his future and that of his descendants. Her reply began with the threat of arriving at kingdom of Lavinium, but she consoled him by assuring him he had no need to fear. That was just the beginning. There would be many wars to follow. Yet he and his followers would prevail. She warned him not to lose heart but to endure all afflictions that must come. Some of the details raised questions. It was not clear exactly what they meant and their correct interpretation would only become clear at the time of their fulfilment. Aeneas is portrayed as much bolder than Odysseus and he assures the Sybil he is not afraid to endure all trials to the end.

Next Aeneas asked to see his deceased father in Hades. Better than a mere leafy fig tree the Sybil instructs him to look out for a golden bough that will enable him to pass safely through death and return. It is there in Hades that Aeneas’s father, Anchises, gives the long prophecy of what must happen afterwards. This was the history of Rome being narrated to Virgil’s audience. It enabled the audience to imagine all their history had been foretold and was thus under the guidance of a divine plan. It even included a prophecy of Augustus Caesar, the audience’s emperor. There were admonitions included, too, to instruct Romans in the noble virtues they needed to rule their empire.

Mark (chapter 13)

The prophecy in Mark should be seen in the context of the popular features of ancient literature.

The “little apocalypse” in Mark 13 is an integral part of the gospel and its parts are shared by the examples discussed above:

  1. Just as other storybook heroes reach the point where they must face their greatest trial a consoling and warning prophecy is spelled out in detail, but not too much detail.
  2. Some element of it will be couched in mystery that will only be clearly understood when experienced by the followers.
  3. It is delivered, with the prophet sitting, to a handful who are separated out from their peers.
  4. It begins with a trial that sounds bad enough but it is explained that this is only the beginning; much worse is to follow. The specific prophecies are graduated in severity of danger. (e.g. the statement that “these are the beginning of pains”, “the end is not yet”.)
  5. It is replete with warnings to endure and advice on how to avoid succumbing to the struggles to be faced. (e.g. when and how to flee, how to approach arrest and trial, to watch for the signs)
  6. It is foretold that some followers may be lost along the way.
  7. A piece of vegetation features significantly as indicating the means of survival.
  8. The prophecy culminates with the promise of finally arriving at one’s ultimate home.

And just as Virgil turned the prophecy into a message addressed to his audience, so did Mark.

Virgil’s message was one of conquest and power. Mark’s was one of persecution and enduring being the victim of power. Compare the irony of the way he narrated Jesus’ journey to the cross as an anti Roman Triumph. Like and unlike the Roman conqueror in his procession through Rome Jesus was crowned and hailed as king, mocked, marched with another bearing the sacrificial weapon, ended the journey on the capitol hill or place of the head or skull. (For details see this online article by Schmidt and another of my posts on the role of Simon the Cyrenian.)

The prophecy serves to reassure the audience that what they have experienced is all the plan and will of God. Most commonly in literature it assured audiences that what their hero and his followers were to endure was divinely planned. The chaos that Mark’s audience experienced as Christians — competing sects, official persecution, family betrayals and rejections — were given a structure and meaning. His audience could begin to see themselves as not only victims, but as being part of a plan of God. Their experiences could be rationalized as the signs of hope because of that plan.

But the prophecy also maintained its contact with the ensuing experiences of their hero and his followers in the story:

  1. So the commands for the audience to watch were picked up when Jesus commanded his disciples to watch while he prayed;
  2. the prediction that they would be handed over to councils, synagogues and rulers was picked up again when Jesus was on trial before priests and the governor;
  3. the assurance that they did not need to worry about what to say but to let the holy spirit inspire them was picked up by the silence of Jesus before his judges except for moments of climactic pronouncements about his identity and the future of the kingdom;
  4. the instruction to flee and not return for one’s garment was picked up with the detail of the young man who fled naked — only to return again fully clothed at the end;
  5. the prediction that the sun would be darkened before Jesus returned in power resonated when they heard read that there was darkness for 3 hours in the middle of the day when Jesus was at the gates of entering “his glory” through the cross.

There was enough here for the audience to see that Mark was telling them that in their persecutions they were in fact following the way of their Jesus Christ.

Some scholars dogmatically assert (curiously — I’ve never seen them justify the claim) that the one single bedrock fact we know about Jesus is that he was crucified. Mark’s gospel certainly cannot be claimed as evidence for this “bedrock fact”. He was creating his narrative to give meaning to the experiences of his audience, and so to give them a fortifying confidence and assurance. His little apocalypse is evidence for this.

It is a truism that Mark was giving his audience the hope that their sufferings and even deaths were nothing less than the gateway to the resurrection and the kingdom of heaven. But the main tool he found to do this was borrowed from the popular literature of his day. He played with words and images so as to adapted it in a way that enabled his audience to identify themselves and what they were suffering with the human experience of Jesus.

And part of that experience was to suffer the betrayal and denial by the twelve apostles, and their stubborn refusal to understand a “higher” form of Christian teaching. It is quite likely, as Weeden and others have shown, that Mark also knew his readers would understand the false prophets and teachers in the little apocalypse were those “false” Christians claiming descent from the twelve apostles. (The sins of the false teachers in Mark 13, and in Paul’s letters, are acted out by the twelve in Mark’s narrative.)

The little apocalypse was not from some tradition about what Jesus might have said. Nor a later implant into the original gospel. It was a common feature of popular literature. And Mark was not the first to adapt this feature to give his audience a pride in who they were, and an admonition to hold fast to that identity.


3 more pointers to a late date for Mark? – revised

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by Neil Godfrey

As per Weeden, the Gospel of Mark was written in response to a strident claim to push Peter’s “primacy” in the church.

1. Written at a time when Peter was proclaimed as leading apostle?

Weeden (in a question and answer session on the “2 Jesuses” dvd avail at Westar) sums up his reasons for viewing the gospel as written at a time when the dominance of Peter was being pushed into the face of the churches. Mark’s intention was to undermine these claims: Continue reading “3 more pointers to a late date for Mark? – revised”


Little Apocalypse and the Bar Kochba Revolt

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Mark 13 is often called the Little Apocalypse or the Mount Olivet Prophecy. Many scholars use its content to calculate that the gospel of Mark must have been written either during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 ce or shortly afterwards. (A minority see in this chapter evidence to date the gospel much earlier, to the 40’s ce, but I will be discussing this view in a later post.) Dr Hermann Detering has a different view that I find quite persuasive. He places this chapter in the time of Hadrian and the Bar Kochba war of 135 ce. He does not date the gospel of Mark so late, but sees this chapter as a later redaction.

I posted the following on the JesusMysteries discussion group in 2001 and, as previously indicated, am adding it here as part of my efforts to collate things I have composed over the years. Unfortunately I don’t read German and used a machine translator to work out the main gist of his article. Happily since then his article has been translated into English by Michael Conley and Darrell Doughty and is available online here. So if you have any sense you will dismiss the rest of this post and go straight to the real thing, here (again). Continue reading “Little Apocalypse and the Bar Kochba Revolt”