Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple

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When three eager prospective disciples asked permission to follow Jesus, Jesus responded to each of them with a riddle. Why would God allow Jesus and his followers to sleep on the ground when he provides safe places even for the animals to sleep? How can the dead bury a corpse? Why would a disciple set his hand to a plow when Elisha had given up plowing in order to follow Elijah? These riddles would have to be puzzled over before their meaning was fully understood. But each of the riddles were ominous, and it appears that each of the three prospective disciples reconsidered his desire to join Jesus.

Matt. 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62

(Huck 49, 138; Aland 89, 176; Crook 93, 195)[1]

Revised: 22-February-2017

וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ רַבִּי אֵלֵךְ אַחֲרֶיךָ אֶל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ יֵשׁוּעַ הַשּׁוּעָלִים יֵשׁ לָהֶם פִּּירִים וְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם יֵשׁ לָהֶם מִשְׁכְּנוֹת וּבַר אֱנָשׁ אֵין לוֹ אֵיכָן לְהַנִּיחַ אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אַחֵר אֲדֹנִי הַנַּח אוֹתִי תְּחִילָה לָלֶכֶת וְלִקְבֹּר אֶת אָבִי וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ לֵךְ אַחֲרַי וְהַנַּח אֶת הַמֵּתִים לִקְבֹּר אֶת מֵתֵיהֶם וַיֹּאמֶר אַף אַחֵר אֵלֵךְ אַחֲרֶיךָ אֲדֹנִי אֲבַל הַנַּח אוֹתִי תְּחִילָה לִנְשֹׁק לְבֵיתִי וַיֹּאמֶר יֵשׁוּעַ כָּל הַנּוֹתֵן יָדוֹ עַל הַמַּחֲרֵשָׁה וּמַבִּיט אַחֲרָיו לֹא הָגוּן לְמַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם

…and he said to him, “Rabbi, wherever you go, I’ll follow.” But Yeshua said, “Beasts and birds have homes, but those who join me won’t even enjoy that basic comfort.”

Someone else said, “Lord, I’ll follow you after I’ve seen my dad through to the end of his days.” But Yeshua said, “Come join my life-giving mission, and let those who have not been brought to life take care of everyday existence.”

Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go say good-bye to my family.” But Yeshua said, “The person who commits himself and then takes it back isn’t fit for my band of disciples.”[2]


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Reconstruction

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Story Placement

Matthew and Luke do not agree with respect to the placement of this pericope. Matthew places the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope during Jesus’ time in the Galilee, on the heels of the Healing of Shimon’s Mother-in-law (Matt. 8:14-15) and the Sick Healed at Evening (Matt. 8:16-17) stories, whereas Luke places the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope during the early stage of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem at a point when Jesus had already left the Galilee. We suppose that Matthew and Luke drew the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope from Anthology, a source that lacked a chronological or narrative framework. The absence of chronological data in Anthology accounts for the divergent placement of this pericope in Matthew and Luke.

The Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope seems to belong to the period when Jesus was still admitting full-time disciples into his traveling school (i.e., “the Kingdom of Heaven”).[3] We have therefore placed the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope early in the section of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua entitled “Calling and Training Disciples.”

LOYMap

 

Click here to view the Map of the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua.

 

Conjectured Stages of Transmission

Anth-Luke-MattIn this Double Tradition pericope Matthew and Luke have achieved a high degree of verbal identity. Lindsey identified two types of Double Tradition pericopae: one set characterized by strong verbal agreement, and the other set characterized by a high level of verbal disparity.[4] Lindsey supposed that the DT pericopae with strong verbal agreement resulted from Matthew and Luke independently copying their common source, Anthology, while the DT pericopae characterized by verbal disparity resulted from Matthew’s reliance on Anthology and Luke’s reliance on First Reconstruction.[5] We conclude that Matthew and Luke independently copied Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple from Anthology.[6]

Crucial Issues

  1. What is the meaning of “son of man” in this pericope?
  2. What is the meaning of “leave the dead to bury their own dead”?
  3. Does Jesus’ refusal to permit the aspiring disciple to bury his father indicate that Jesus opposed the Torah or violated the precepts of first-century Judaism?
  4. Did Matthew drop the third example (Luke 9:61-62) of a would-be full-time disciple, or did Luke (or his source) add it?
  5. Were the three men in this pericope acting inappropriately when they approached Jesus on their own initiative about becoming his disciples?

Comment

L1-2 Whereas strong verbal agreement between Matthew and Luke characterizes the body of this pericope, the introductions in Matthew and Luke are quite disparate. The best explanation for this phenomenon is that the pericope lacked an introduction in Anthology, and therefore Matthew and Luke were each compelled to compose an introduction to this pericope for themselves.

L1 εἷς γραμματεὺς (Matt. 8:19). “One scribe” is probably a Matthean elaboration since this phrase does not reflect Hebrew word order and the use of εἷς as an indefinite pronoun is fairly common in Matthew’s Gospel.[7] We have therefore omitted Matthew’s identification of the individual who offered to follow Jesus as a scribe from GR and HR.[8]

L2 καὶ πορευομένων αὐτῶν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ (Luke 9:57). The gen. absolute suggests that Luke’s opening phrase was composed in Greek or underwent Greek redaction.[9] Lindsey observed a strange phenomenon related to the phrase “in the way” in the Synoptic Gospels, which is that Mark and Luke never agree to write ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ in parallel accounts. Lindsey also noticed that Mark sometimes has ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ where Matthew and Luke agree to omit this phrase.[10] This observation led Lindsey to conclude that the author of Mark intentionally avoided using the phrase “in the way” wherever he saw it in Luke’s text, and yet inserted ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ at other points in his Gospel where it was absent in Luke’s parallel. The term Lindsey coined to refer to this phenomenon is “Markan pick-up.”[11]

L5 διδάσκαλε (Matt. 8:19). In a first-century Jewish context it would have been considered rude to call Jesus by name, but a prospective disciple would have found some form of address to be necessary.[12] Διδάσκαλε (didaskale, “teacher”), which is the Greek equivalent of רַבִּי (rabi, “my master”), would have been a natural and culturally appropriate choice.[13]

L6-14 From ἀκολουθήσω (L6; Matt. 8:19; Luke 9:57) to κλείνῃ (L14; Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58) Matthew and Luke are in almost verbatim agreement except for λέγει in Matthew vs. εἶπεν in Luke (L8), ὁ Ἰησοῦς in Matthew vs. Ἰησοῦς in Luke (L8), and ἔχουσι in Matthew vs. ἔχουσιν in Luke (L9).

L6 ἀκολουθήσω σοι (Matt. 8:19; Luke 9:57). Lindsey remarked that the three stories collected in Anth. about individuals who approached Jesus about joining his band of disciples are all characterized by the presence of the verb ἀκολουθεῖν (akolouthein, “to follow”; L6, L25, L30), whether as an offer in the mouth of a candidate for discipleship, or as a command in the mouth of Jesus.

In the Synoptic Gospels the verb ἀκολουθεῖν can refer to following in the simplest sense of walking behind someone; however, “following” can also have the more specific sense of following an itinerating sage as his disciple.[14] Discipleship quite literally involved following a sage from place to place in order to observe a sage’s conduct in a variety of contexts and circumstances. It is therefore misleading to refer to this sense of ἀκολουθεῖν as figurative or metaphorical,[15] which gives the false impression that “follow” could be equated with “believe in” or “adhere to in a philosophical, intellectual, or moral way” without physically moving around with Jesus from place to place.[16] Presumably, many people were open to Jesus’ message and put his teachings into practice, but only by following Jesus could they become disciples.

L7 אֶל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ (HR). The phrase ὅπου ἐὰν (hopou ean, “wherever”) appears to be quite rare. In NT ὅπου ἐὰν is restricted to the Synoptic Gospels, where it occurs 8xx.[17] In the Pseudepigrapha and in the writings of Philo and Josephus there are no examples of ὅπου ἐὰν, and in LXX the phrase occurs only in Ruth 1:16, where Ruth declares to Naomi, ὅπου ἐὰν πορευθῇς πορεύσομαι (“wherever you go, I will go”; NETS). In Hebrew Ruth’s request reads: אֶל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ. The wording of the would-be disciple’s declaration is so like Ruth’s and the situations are so similar that we believe the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua intended to allude to this biblical story. We have therefore reconstructed ὅπου ἐὰν with אֶל אֲשֶׁר (’el ’asher, “to which,” i.e., “wherever”), even though this phrase is rare in BH[18] and DSS,[19] and absent in the Mishnah.[20]

If we are correct in identifying an allusion to Ruth 1:16 in the would-be disciple’s declaration, this may help to illuminate Jesus’ difficult saying about the foxes and birds having lodgings, but the Son of Man having no place to lay his head. The full declaration of Ruth’s intention to follow Naomi reads:

אַל תִּפְגְּעִי בִי לְעָזְבֵךְ לָשׁוּב מֵאַחֲרָיִךְ כִּי אֶל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי וֵאלֹהַיִךְ אֱלֹהָי בַּאֲשֶׁר תָּמוּתִי אָמוּת וְשָׁם אֶקָּבֵר כֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה יי לִי וְכֹה יֹסִיף כִּי הַמָּוֶת יַפְרִיד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵךְ

Do not strike me to make me forsake you and to return [home] from following you, for wherever you go I will go, and wherever you lodge for the night I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God, my God. Wherever you die I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and so cause it to increase, unless death separates me from you. (Ruth 1:16-17)

If, in his declaration, the would-be disciple alluded to Ruth 1:16, Jesus, in his response, may have alluded to its continuation, thus: If you are willing to go where I go, are you also willing to lodge where I spend the night, though I have no permanent dwelling? Jesus certainly demanded of his disciples the same level of commitment Ruth displayed toward her mother-in-law.[21] Ruth’s commitment to Naomi was vindicated by Ruth’s becoming the grandmother of David, the anointed king of Israel (Ruth 4:17). Undoubtedly Jesus believed that the commitment of the disciples would likewise be vindicated, since they left home and family and trade in order to join the Kingdom of Heaven, the messianic movement through which God was bringing redemption to Israel.

L8 λέγει (Matt. 8:20) vs. εἶπεν (Luke 9:58). We believe that εἶπεν (eipen, “he said”) is more likely to represent the reading of Anth. than λέγει (legei, “he says”). Lindsey (LHNS, 49) suggested that the author of Matthew used λέγει to break up the monotonous recurrence of εἶπεν in dialogue in Anth. Luke’s καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ἰησοῦς beautifully preserves Hebrew word order.

L9-11 αἱ ἀλώπεκες φωλεοὺς ἔχουσι καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατασκηνώσεις (“The foxes have holes and the birds of the heaven dwellings”; Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58). Jesus’ response takes the form of a parallelism, a common feature of ancient Hebrew.

A rabbinic saying that has come down to us in various forms[22] may help to illuminate Jesus’ response:

הֲרָאִיתָה מִיָּמֶיךָ אֲרִי סַבָּל צְבִי קָיָיצ שׁוּעַל חַנְוָונִי זְאֵב גּוֹדֵר גְּדֵירוֹת וַהֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים קַ{ו}ל וַחוֹמֵר וּמָהּ אִם אֵלּוּ שֶׁנִּיבְרְאוּ שֶׁלֹא לשַׁמֵּשׁ אֶת קוֹנָן הֲרֵי הֵן מִיתְפַּרנְסִים שׁלֹא בְצַעַר אֲנִי שֶׁנִּיבְרֵאתִי לְשַׁמֵּשׁ אֶת קוֹנִי אֵינוֹ דִין שֶׁתְּהֵא פַרִנָסָתִי שֶׁלֹא בְצַעַר וּמִי גָרַם לִי לִהְיוֹת מִתְפַּרְנֵס בִּצַעַר הֱרֵי אוֹמֵ′ חֲטָאַיִי לְפִי שֶׁהֵירַעְתִּי אֶת מַעֲשַׂי וֶקֵיפַחְתִי אֶת פַּרְנָסָתִי

Have you ever seen in all your days a lion [working as a] porter, a gazelle as a fruit-picker, a fox as a shopkeeper, or a wolf as a cooper? But look, it is a matter of kal vahomer. How is it that if these who were not created to serve their Maker have their provision without toil, then I, too, though I was created to serve my Maker, do not have my provision without toil? Who has caused me to provide for myself by toil? Say, therefore, “It is my sins, because I made my deeds evil and scorned my provision.” (m. Kid. 4:14)

ראית מימיך חיה ועוף שיש להם אומנות והן מתפרנסין שלא בצער והלא לא נבראו אלא לשמשני ואני נבראתי לשמש את קוני אינו דין שאתפרנס שלא בצער אלא שהורעתי מעשי וקפחתי את פרנסתי

Have you ever seen an animal or a bird that has a craft? Yet they are sustained without toil. And were they not created only to serve me? But I was created to serve my Master. Then shouldn’t I make a living without toil? But I have made my deeds evil and scorned my provision. (b. Kid. 82a)

Both versions of the rabbinic homily make the same point: unlike the animals, human beings are not automatically provided for. We have to work in order to take care of ourselves. Perhaps Jesus’ saying also has to do with the necessity of human beings to work for a living.[23] Full-time disciples had to give up their livelihoods and leave behind their possessions in order to follow Jesus.[24] They also had to leave behind their homes in order to travel with Jesus from place to place.[25] These radical demands required the disciples to entrust themselves to God’s care. On a different occasion Jesus encouraged the disciples to trust that God can and will provide by reminding them about how he daily provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (Yeshua’s Discourse on Worry; Matt. 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-32). Jesus’ “Foxes have holes…” saying might be understood as the other side of the coin. Rather than an encouragement to those who had already been accepted as disciples, this saying may have served as a warning to deter those who were not prepared for the rigorous lifestyle discipleship required.[26] In this saying Jesus may have been asking the man to consider whether he was prepared to forego the security he had in earning his own living and to entrust himself to God, given that unlike the foxes and birds we humans do not have our needs met automatically.[27] In the usual course of things human beings have to support themselves through some kind of labor, trade or profession. The disciples, on the other hand, cast themselves entirely upon God’s care in order to devote themselves exclusively to the Kingdom of Heaven.

L9 αἱ ἀλώπεκες φωλεοὺς ἔχουσι (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58). In the land of Israel there are a few fox species: in the desert regions to the south and east is found the Egyptian Fox (Vulpes niloticus), and in the Judean hill country and up into the Galilee is the Palestine Fox (Vulpes palaestinus). Both varieties are small burrowing canids of reddish-grey color.[28] Jesus’ observation that foxes have holes is quite accurate.

"Foxes have holes..." (Luke 9:58). (Illustration by Liz McLeod)

“Foxes have holes…” (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58). (Illustration by Liz McLeod for Jerusalem Perspective magazine, Issue 40)

As in the broader Greco-Roman culture,[29] foxes featured quite regularly in Jewish folk tales and in sayings of Jewish sages.[30] In Jewish literature foxes are often mentioned because of their diminutive size, rather than their craftiness.[31]

הַשּׁוּעָלִים יֵשׁ לָהֶם פִּירִים (HR). In LXX, ἀλώπηξ (alōpēx, “fox”) is the translation of שׁוּעָל (shū‘āl, “fox”) 6xx.[32] Josephus also used ἀλώπηξ when telling the story of Samson setting fire to the Philistine fields with foxes (Ant. 5:295; cf. Judg. 15:4). We are therefore confident of our reconstruction of ἀλώπηξ with ‎שׁוּעָל‎.[33] More difficult to reconstruct is φωλεός (fōleos, “den,” “lair”), which does not appear in LXX. The most common word for “den” in MT is מְעוֹנָה (me‘ōnāh),[34] however מְעוֹנָה does not appear in MH. We have based our reconstruction on a proverbial saying preserved in rabbinic literature:

לא מצינו שועל שמת בעפר פיר

We do not find a fox that died in the dust of his den. (b. Ket. 71b; cf. y. Ket. 7:3 [44a]; b. Ned. 81b)

The meaning of this proverb is that no one misses what they never had.[35] A fox can live in a dusty old hole and be quite happy, but someone who is used to a house and a warm bed would not enjoy such conditions, and might not even survive. Along with providing the Hebrew word used to describe a fox’s dwelling, this proverb may also help us understand Jesus’ reply to the would-be disciple.[36] If some form of the proverb was already current in Jesus’ time, then it is possible that Jesus alluded to it, warning the would-be disciple that anyone who joins him in his travels would not even enjoy the comforts a fox is used to, and in such austere conditions the would-be disciple would certainly suffer the privation of comforts to which he was accustomed.

For the grammatical structure of a definite noun followed by יֵשׁ לוֹ (yēsh lō, “there is to him”), note the following examples from the Mishnah:

הַגּוֹיִם אֵין לָהֶם נְזִירוּת נָשִׁים וַעֲבָדִים יֵשׁ לָהֶם נְזִירוּת

Gentiles do not have nazirites. Women and slaves do have nazirites. (m. Naz. 9:1)

הָרִאשׁוֹנָה וְהַשְׁנִייָּה אֵין לָהֶם כְּלוּם הַשְּׁלִישִׁית יֵשׁ לָהֶם אַחַת הָרְבִיעִית יֵשׁ לָהֶם שְׁתַּיִם וְהַחֲמִישִׁית יֵשׁ לָהֶן שָׁלוֹשׁ הַשִּׁישִּׁית יֵשׁ לָהּ אַרְבַּע וְהַשְׁבִיעִית יֵשׁ לָהּ שֵׁשׁ

…the first [woman] and the second will have none left [that can validly be offered]; the third will have one pair, the fourth will have two, the fifth will have three, the sixth will have four, while the seventh will have six. (m. Kin. 2:3; Danby)

הַשּׁוּלְחָן וְהַדָּלְפְקֵי יֵשׁ לוֹ אֲחוֹרַיִים וָתוֹךְ

A table and a side-table has an outside and an inside. (m. Kel. 25:1)

הַמַּרְדַּעַ יֶשׁ לוֹ אֲחוֹרַיִים וָתוֹךְ

An ox-goad[37] has an outside and an inside. (m. Kel. 25:2)

We have used this same syntactical structure in HR for L10-13.

L10 καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58). The combination πετεινόν + τοῦ οὐρανοῦ occurs 42xx in LXX, where it translates the Hebrew phrase עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם‎ 31xx[38] and the Aramaic phrase צִפֲּרֵי שְׁמַיָּא‎ 2xx (Dan. 4:12[9], 21[18]).[39] The phrase τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ also occurs 2xx in Pseud. (4 Bar. 7:3, 10) and once in the writings of Philo (Leg. 2:9, quoting Gen. 2:19), but it does not occur in the writings of Josephus. In NT the phrase τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ occurs 8xx (confined to SG and 1 Acts [Acts 10:12; 11:6]). Thus, τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ in L10 is a Hebraism, likely the result of a literal translation from Hebrew to Greek.[40] In Greek τοῦ οὐρανοῦ is superfluous, just as in English “of the sky” is unnecessary.[41]

Tristram's Grackle inhabits the desert regions of Israel. This image is from Henry Baker Tristram, The Survey of Western Palestine: The Fauna and Flora of Palestine (London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1884).

Tristram’s Grackle inhabits the desert regions of Israel. This image is from Henry Baker Tristram, The Survey of Western Palestine: The Fauna and Flora of Palestine (London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1884). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

וְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם יֵשׁ לָהֶם (HR). Neither the phrase צִפּוֹר הַשָּׁמַיִם (tzipōr hashāmayim) nor עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם (‘ōf hashāmayim), both meaning “birds of the sky,” appear in DSS or MH apart from biblical quotations.[42] Evidently Jesus intentionally used a biblical phrase, perhaps to recall the passages in Scripture, such as Ps. 104:12, where God is depicted as providing the birds with a dwelling place. We have therefore reconstructed with עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם since this is the more common biblical phrase.[43]

We considered whether to treat עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם as singular or plural in our reconstruction. If singular, we would have reconstructed with וְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם יֵשׁ לוֹ. In Ps. 104:12 and Eccl. 10:20 עֹוף הַשָּׁמַיִם takes third-person singular verbs, but in 1 Kgs. 16:4 עֹוף הַשָּׁמַיִם takes a third-person plural verb. In MT, most cases of עֹוף הַשָּׁמַיִם are treated as a collective noun. The phrase כָּל עֹוף הַשָּׁמַיִם takes a third-person plural verb in Jer. 4:25 and Ezek. 31:6, 13, and is therefore to be translated “all the birds of the sky,” and not “every bird of the sky.” Since in L10 we have the plural of πετεινόν, there is no reason not to reconstruct with יֵשׁ לָהֶם.

L11 κατασκηνώσεις (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58). Κατασκήνωσις (kataskēnōsis, “encamping,” “taking up of quarters”),[44] which in NT appears only in this pericope, is an unusual choice for describing a bird’s dwelling. Plummer (266) suggested that “roosts” is a better translation than “nests” in this context.[45]

מִשְׁכְּנוֹת (HR). There are only four instances of κατασκήνωσις in LXX, and of these only two appear in a Hebrew context.[46] Since LXX’s rendering of 1 Chr. 28:2, where κατασκήνωσις appears, is a rather loose translation, we are left with only one verse (Ezek. 37:27) where κατασκήνωσις corresponds to a Hebrew noun, מִשְׁכָּן (mishkān, “dwelling place,” “tabernacle”). All four instances of κατασκήνωσις in LXX pertain in some way to the Jerusalem Temple. There are several instances in MT where the root ש-כ-נ is used to describe birds,[47] and there are similar examples in rabbinic literature.[48] In one instance, the root ש-כ-נ is parallel to “nest”:

שֹׁכְנִי בְּחַגְוֵי הַסֶּלַע תֹּפְשִׂי מְרֹום גִּבְעָה כִּי־תַגְבִּיהַ כַּנֶּשֶׁר קִנֶּךָ

…you who live in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill. Though you make your nest as high as the eagle’s…. (Jer. 49:16; RSV)

Although in the examples we have cited only verbal forms of ש-כ-נ are used, we have used the nominal form, מִשְׁכָּן, for HR. We believe the use of ש-כ-נ to describe the dwelling habits of birds is so well attested that the nominal form would not have seemed strange to Hebrew speakers. In addition, reconstructing with מִשְׁכָּן helps explain the otherwise unusual use of κατασκήνωσις in our pericope.

L12 וּבַר אֱנָשׁ (HR). The phrase ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (ho huios tou anthrōpou, “the son of the human being”) in the Gospels is a matter of intense scholarly debate.[49] Options range from the opinion that “son of man” is a circumlocution for “I,” to the suggestion that by “son of man” Jesus alluded to an eschatological figure other than himself. Even among the members of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research there are differences of opinion regarding how “son of man” in Jesus’ sayings ought to be understood (see below, “Results of This Research”).[50] One point is certain, the phrase ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου is unnatural in Greek, and very likely reflects a Hebrew or Aramaic construction.

Lindsey suggested that ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου should be reconstructed with the Aramaic phrase בַּר אֱנָשׁ (bar ’enāsh, “a son of a human being”).[51] According to Lindsey, using the Aramaic phrase בַּר אֱנָשׁ while speaking in Hebrew allowed Jesus to refer unmistakably to the eschatological figure in the book of Daniel who is described as “like a son of a human being” (כְּבַר אֱנָשׁ; Dan. 7:13). Lindsey believed that using בַּר אֱנָשׁ was a convenient way for Jesus to express his messianic self-awareness while avoiding the political connotations of the title “Messiah.” Since one of the main goals of “The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction” is to test Lindsey’s hypotheses,[52] we have agreed to reconstruct ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου as בַּר אֱנָשׁ in this pericope.[53]

L13 אֵין לוֹ אֵיכָן (HR). Although we considered reconstructing “has nowhere” with מָקוֹם (māqōm, “place”), the Greek text has ποῦ (pou, “where?”), an interrogative that was never used to translate מָקוֹם in LXX. We have therefore chosen to reconstruct with אֵיכָן (’ēchān, “where?”), also an interrogative which, like ποῦ, is sometimes used in a non-interrogative sense.[54] Note the following linguistic parallel from the Jerusalem Talmud:

מצורע אין לו איכן להגן זב יש לו איכן להגן בכל ירושלם

A person with scale disease has nowhere [אין לו איכן] to shelter [in Jerusalem]. A person with an abnormal genital discharge has somewhere [יש לו איכן] to shelter in all parts of Jerusalem. (y. Pes. 7:12 [56a])[55]

L14 τὴν κεφαλὴν κλείνῃ (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58). Safrai noted that “sleeping on the ground was a sign of the most extreme poverty.”[56] Safrai’s observation underscores the austere conditions that Jesus and his disciples endured as they itinerated from village to village in the Galilee and Judea. Anyone who joined Jesus’ band of disciples had not only to be theoretically prepared to endure the privations of poverty, but to actually experience them in fellowship with Jesus and his followers.

The privations endured by the sages and their disciples is sometimes alluded to in rabbinic literature. Of particular interest for the present discussion is the following comment:

ועניים מרודים אלו חכמים ותלמידיהם שהם מורים לישראל כין טומאה לטהרה בין איסור להיתר תביא בית

And the homeless poor (Isa. 58:7). These are the sages and their disciples who teach Israel to distinguish between impure and pure and between forbidden and permitted. Bring them into your house. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 14 [ed. Schechter, 34])

In this rabbinic source the injunction to bring the homeless poor into one’s house in Isa. 58:7 is applied to the duty to show hospitality to the sages and their disciples. It attests to the itinerant lifestyle practiced by some sages and also by Jesus and his disciples.

לְהַנִּיחַ אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ (HR). The verb κλίνειν (klinein, “to incline,” “to lay down”) occurs in LXX 58xx, where it translates נָטָה (nāṭāh, “to incline”) 12xx[57] and הִטָּה (hiṭāh, “to [cause to] incline”) 23xx.[58] Conversely, the most common translation of נ-ט-ה is κλίνειν. We therefore considered whether to reconstruct L14 as לְהַטּוֹת אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ. Verbal forms of the root נ-ט-ה are found 52xx in the Mishnah, and we find examples in rabbinic literature where הִטָּה means “to recline,” for example:

בֵּית שַׁמַיִ אוֹמְ′ בָּעֶרֶב כָּל אָדָם יַיטּוּ וְיִקְרוּ וּבַבֹּקֶר יַעֲמֹדוּ שֶׁנֶּ′ בְּשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ

Bet Shammai says, “In the evening everyone reclines and recites, and in the morning they stand, as it says when you lie down and when you rise.” (m. Ber. 1:3)[59]

However, against reconstructing with הִטָּה, we can find no instances of the transitive use of הִטָּה where the meaning is “to lay something down.” Instead, the meaning is always “to tilt,” “to incline,” etc., which does not fit the present context. We have therefore reconstructed κλείνῃ with לְהַנִּיחַ. The verb הִנִּיחַ (hiniaḥ, “to [cause to] rest,” “to lay down,” “to leave,” “to allow”) also occurs in HR at L20, L26 and L31.

L15 τῶν μαθητῶν (Matt. 8:21). We believe that Matthew’s identification of the second man as one of the disciples is secondary.[60] Perhaps the inspiration for this erroneous identification was the man’s use of “Lord” to address Jesus (see below, Comment to L19). We suppose that the man was not one of Jesus’ disciples because the command “Follow me” (Matt. 8:22; L25) is equivalent to “Become my disciple” (cf. Call of Levi, L17 [Matt. 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27]; Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L50 [Matt. 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22]), which implies that the man was not yet included in Jesus’ traveling school.

L17 ἀκολούθει μοι (Luke 9:59). Since the command “Follow me” also appears in Matt. 8:22 (L25), albeit at a different point in the story, it seems likely that the command was present in Matthew and Luke’s shared pre-synoptic source. We believe Matthew preserves the original location of the command (see below, Comment to L25).

L18 εἶπεν αὐτῷ (GR). Luke’s ὁ δὲ εἶπεν (Luke 9:59) is stylistically more refined than Matthew’s εἶπεν αὐτῷ (Matt. 8:21). We suppose that Matthew’s wording comes from Anth., since it is unlikely that a Greek author would replace Luke’s smoother reading with the more Hebraic phrase in Matthew.

L19 κύριε (Matt. 8:21). On “Lord” as a title of address in first-century Jewish culture, see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L10. In general, only disciples or persons seeking assistance addressed Jesus as “Lord.”[61] Perhaps the author of Matthew had made this observation, and the presence of κύριε in his source is what gave Matthew the idea that the person who made the request was already a disciple (cf. L15).

The manuscript evidence is divided as to whether Luke also wrote κύριε in his parallel to Matt. 8:21.[62] Since our reconstruction is based on Codex Vaticanus, we have omitted it from the Luke column, but retained κύριε in GR based on Matthew’s version.[63]

L20 הַנַּח אוֹתִי תְּחִילָה (HR). For our reconstruction of πρῶτον (prōton, “first”) with תְּחִילָה (teḥilāh, “first”), see Tower Builder and King Going to War, Comment to L3. When the Mishnah describes permitting someone to do something, we find the construction הִנִּיחַ‎ + dir. obj. marker + infinitive. For example:

מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ מַנִּיַח אֶת הָעֲנִיִּם לְלַקֵּט

…someone who does not allow the poor to glean…. (m. Peah 5:6)

לֹא הָיוּ מַנִּיחִים אוֹתוֹ לֹאכַל

They did not allow him to eat. (m. Yom. 1:4)

וְלֹא הָיוּ מַנִּיחִים אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵ′ לְהוֹלִיכוֹ

…they did not allow an Israelite to lead it away. (m. Yom. 6:3)

L21 ἀπελθεῖν (Matt. 8:21). Matthew has the verb ἀπέρχεσθαι (aperchesthai, “to go away”) in the infinitive whereas Luke uses a participial form of the verb. We believe that Luke’s version is an attempt to polish the Greek style of his source.[64]

לָלֶכֶת (HR). In LXX the verb ἀπέρχεσθαι is almost always (136xx) a translation of הָלַךְ (hālach, “walk,” “go”).[65] The construction הָלַךְ + verb is common in Hebrew (see Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl, Comment to L5).

L23 θάψαι τὸν πατέρα μου (Matt. 8:21; Luke 9:59). The man sought permission to bury his father before becoming Jesus’ disciple. Under what circumstances did the man make this request? Most commentators assume that the father in question was recently deceased, and that the aspiring disciple came to Jesus prior to his father’s burial. However, as McCane rightly points out, this scenario is improbable, given the cultural context of the Gospels. Among first-century Jews in the land of Israel burials took place as soon as possible after the time of death, usually on the same day that the person died.[66] “In view of these customs,” writes McCane, “a man who needed to bury his father could never have entered into a conversation with Jesus about discipleship. On the contrary, if his father’s body had not yet been buried, then death had occurred only hours before, and the disciple would be at home, preparing the body for immediate burial and beginning the ritual of shiv’ah.”[67] Another difficulty with assuming that the man’s father was already dead that McCane did not mention is the issue of ritual purity.[68] Corpses are the strongest sources of ritual impurity, imparting a seven day impurity to anyone who even enters an enclosed space containing a corpse (Num. 19:14). If the aspiring disciple had attended his father’s death or entered his father’s home after the father died, he would have become ritually impure and would probably have avoided social interactions in public in order to avoid passing on his impurity to others.[69]

Stone ossuaries (burial boxes for bones) near the Dominus Flevit church on the Mount of Olives. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

Stone ossuaries (burial boxes for bones) found in a rock-cut tomb near the Dominus Flevit church on the Mount of Olives. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

Since it is unlikely that the conversation between Jesus and the aspiring disciple could have taken place during the interval between the father’s death and burial, McCane offered an alternative scenario, according to which the father of the aspiring disciple had already died and been placed in the family tomb, and that the man’s request referred to the interment of his father’s bones in an ossuary, a second stage of burial referred to in scholarly literature as ossilegium.[70] Although McCane’s scenario is not impossible, it would require the combination of at least two unlikely conditions that are not mentioned in the story. These conditions are: 1) that the burial was to take place in Judea; and 2) that the man intended to move his father’s bones from one tomb to another.

Entrance to a rock-cut tomb with a rolling stone to the west of the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. TIlton.

Entrance to a rock-cut tomb with a rolling stone to the west of the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

First, there is no evidence for the practice of ossilegium in the Galilee prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.[71] The practice of ossilegium is associated with burial in rock-cut tombs,[72] but to date no Second Temple-period rock-cut tombs have been discovered in the Galilee.[73] The archaeological evidence for secondary burial in the time of Jesus is concentrated in Jerusalem and Jericho, with scattered examples in the rest of Judea.[74] In order for McCane’s scenario to be correct, we must assume that the aspiring disciple’s father had been buried in Judea, since the practice of secondary burial in the Galilee is unattested until after the destruction of the Temple.[75] However, the Gospel account makes no mention of the man’s intention to travel to Judea.

Second, in Jewish sources the verb קָבַר (qāvar, “bury”) is rarely used to describe the practice of ossilegium. Instead we find the phrase לִקֵּט עֲצָמוֹת (liqēṭ ‘atzāmōt, “gather bones”) as the usual way to refer to secondary burial in rabbinic literature.[76] Most references to the gathering of bones omit the verb קָבַר altogether.[77] In fact, one rabbinic source carefully distinguishes burial from the practice of ossilegium:

אמר רבי אליעזר בר צדוק כך אמר לי אבא בשעת מיתתי קברני תחילה בבקעה ובסוף לקט עצמי ותנם בגלוסקמא ברארין‏[78]

Said Rabbi Eliezer ben Zadok,[79] “My father said to me, ‘When I die bury me first in a valley and later gather my bones and put them in an ossuary….’ (Semahot 12:9 [49b])

In the above text, the verb קָבַר describes the initial burial and the phrase לקט עצמי describes the interment of bones in an ossuary. Only when bones are taken out of one tomb to be reinterred elsewhere do we read about the “burial” of bones.[80] Since the man who wanted to become Jesus’ disciple said, “Let me bury my father,” using the verb θάπτειν (thaptein, “to bury”), which in LXX is the usual translation of the root ק-ב-ר‎,[81] we have to assume that if the aspiring disciple referred to secondary burial he must have intended to move his father’s bones from one tomb to another, for otherwise he would have said, “Let me first gather my father’s bones.” In summary, although McCane’s scenario is not beyond the realm of possibility, it requires us to assume such an unlikely combination of unusual circumstances not mentioned in the Gospel story that it seems highly improbable.[82]

Having ruled out the suggestion that the events described in the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope took place at some point after the father’s death but prior to his burial, as well as McCane’s suggestion that the aspiring disciple referred to the interment of his father’s bones in an ossuary, what possibilities remain? Perhaps the simplest solution is to suppose that the father was still alive. If this were the case, then the aspiring disciple’s request should be understood as a deferment until his father was no longer dependent on his son’s care.[83]

According to this view, it is not necessary to assume that the would-be disciple’s father was on the verge of death, as some scholars have proposed.[84] Indeed, if the aspiring disciple really did believe in Jesus’ power and authority, it is difficult to assume that his father was sick, for in that case his concern ought to have been to urge Jesus to heal his father.[85] All that this view requires is that we not jump to the conclusion that “Let me bury my father” implies that the father is nearly or already dead.[86] Supposing that the aspiring disciple requested permission to join Jesus’ band of disciples only after he had been released from family obligations by the death of his father, we can easily understand Jesus’ refusal: Discipleship involved leaving wives and children, parents and siblings behind. Jesus well understood that for those having to make this difficult separation it could feel like the disciples were hating the ones they loved.[87] But those unwilling or unable to make that separation could not, by definition, become disciples, since disciples traveled with Jesus from place to place. Full-time disciples who had to trust God for their daily provisions, having left behind their trade and property in order to travel with Jesus, also had to trust that God would care for their family members while they were away.

L25 ἀκολούθει μοι (Matt. 8:22). Although they do not agree on the timing, both Matthew and Luke do agree that Jesus said to the second would-be disciple, “Follow me.” According to Luke, Jesus initiated the exchange by inviting the man to follow him. Probably Matthew is correct in placing Jesus’ invitation toward the end of the exchange, since this gives us a series of three individuals who approached Jesus about joining his band of disciples.[88]

לֵךְ אַחֲרַי (HR). On הָלַךְ אַחַר (hālach ’aḥar, “walk after,” “follow”), see above, Comment to L6. Kister has drawn attention to the similarity between Jesus’ invitation to the would-be disciple and the call of Abraham, where God says to Abraham, לֶךְ לְךָ (lech lechā; Gen. 12:1).[89] A close reading of Genesis reveals that Abraham’s call came at a time when his father, Terah, was still alive.[90] Thus, in order to answer God’s summons, Abraham left his father to be buried by the idolatrous people of Haran. According to one aggadic tradition, Scripture reports the death of Terah prior to Abraham’s call because “the wicked, even during their lifetime, are called dead” (Gen. Rab. 39:7). Rabbi Isaac, in whose name this tradition is reported, evidently believed that Terah remained an idolator all his life or sank back into the idolatrous ways of his neighbors.[91] If these aggadic traditions were already current in the first century,[92] then perhaps Jesus alluded to the stories about the death of Terah and the call of Abraham in order to help the aspiring disciple understand the implications of entering the Kingdom of Heaven.[93] It is sometimes necessary to break family ties in order to participate in God’s redemptive mission.[94]

L26-27 καὶ ἄφες τοὺς νεκροὺς θάψαι τοὺς ἑαυτῶν νεκρούς (Matt. 8:22; Luke 9:60). The possessive pronoun ἑαυτῶν (heavtōn, “theirs”) leads one to expect that νεκρός (nekros, “dead body”) should have the same meaning in both parts of Jesus’ saying.[95] For this reason some scholars have suggested that Jesus meant, “let the corpses take care of burying the father’s corpse.” We believe that a better option is to suppose νεκρός is used figuratively in both instances (see below, “Results of This Research”).

וְהַנַּח אֶת הַמֵּתִים לִקְבֹּר אֶת מֵתֵיהֶם‎ (HR). Our reconstruction agrees with that proposed by Kister.[96] Kister noted that הַנַּח (hanaḥ) can mean both “leave” and “permit” and suggested that in Jesus’ saying both senses of the word are at play.[97]

L28 σὺ δὲ ἀπελθὼν διάγγελλε τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ (Luke 9:60). This sentence appears to be a Lukan addition to the pericope, as indicated by its absence in Matthew.[98] Note, moreover, that the verb διαγγέλλειν (diangellein, “to proclaim”) occurs nowhere else in the Synoptic Gospels, and in the rest of NT only in Acts 21:26 and Rom. 9:17.

This Lukan interpolation conflicts with Jesus’ command to “follow me.” In addition, the anomalous use of “Kingdom of Heaven” appears to be secondary. The man, who was seeking admission into the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e., Jesus’ itinerating band of full-time disciples), would hardly have been capable of proclaiming the Kingdom until he had been fully trained. Luke may have inserted this line in anticipation of the Sending Out of the Seventy, which immediately follows the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope in Luke’s Gospel.[99]

L31 πρῶτον δὲ ἐπίτρεψόν μοι (Luke 9:61). The request “first permit me to…” is almost identical to that in L20, except that there πρῶτον (prōton, “first”) appeared after ἐπίτρεψόν μοι (epitrepson moi, “permit me”). Here the difference in word order is probably due to the author of Luke’s stylistic improvement of his source. We find support for this conclusion by observing that in Hebrew the word תְּחִילָה (teḥilāh, “first”) follows the verb (see Tower Builder and King Going to War, Comment to L3).

L32 ἀποτάξασθαι (Luke 9:61). We suspect that the author of Luke is responsible for the verb ἀποτάξασθαι (apotaxasthai, “to bid farewell,” “to renounce”), since four of the six NT instances of ἀποτάξασθαι are in Luke and Acts.[100] There is no clear Hebrew equivalent for ἀποτάξασθαι,[101] and this fact also suggests that the verb is redactional.[102]

καταφιλῆσαι (GR). Josephus’ paraphrase of the Elijah-Elisha narrative might provide clues for our Greek and Hebrew reconstructions:

ὁ δ᾽ Ἐλισσαῖος εὐθέως προφητεύειν ἤρξατο καὶ καταλιπὼν τοὺς βόας ἠκολοὺθησεν Ἠλίᾳ. δεηθεὶς δὲ συγχωρῆσαι αὐτῷ τοὺς γονεῖς ἀσπάσασθαι κελεύοντος τοῦτο ποεῖν ἀποταξάμενος αὐτοῖς εἵπετο καὶ ἦν Ἠλίου τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον τοῦ ζῆν καὶ μαθητὴς καὶ διάκονος.

Thereupon Elisha immediately began to prophesy, and leaving his oxen, followed Elijah. But he asked to be allowed to take leave [ἀποταξάμενος] of his parents, and, when Elijah bade him do so, he parted from them and then went with the prophet; and so long as Elijah was alive he was his disciple and attendant. (Ant. 8:354; Loeb)

Josephus used ἀποτάξασθαι in his paraphrase of אֶשְּׁקָה נָּא לְאָבִי וּלְאִמִּי וְאֵלְכָה אַחֲרֶיךָ (“Please let me kiss my father and mother [good-bye], and I will walk after you”; 1 Kgs. 19:20). The LXX translation of נָשַׁק (nāshaq, “kiss”) is καταφιλῆσαι (kataphilēsai, “to kiss”; 3 Kgdms. 19:20), and since the influence of the story of Elijah’s call of Elisha on the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope is widely recognized,[103] we believe that Luke’s pre-synoptic source likely read καταφιλῆσαι in L32. Note that Josephus, who used καταφιλεῖν 3xx (Ant. 7:284; 8:387; 11:59), only used this verb in the usual sense “to kiss,” never in the sense “to kiss good-bye.” Philo used καταφιλεῖν 7xx, all of which appear in the same passage (Her. 41-44), where a kiss is a form of greeting, not a gesture of farewell. Although καταφιλεῖν is used in the sense “to kiss good-bye” in LXX (cf. Gen. 31:28; Ruth 1:14; 3 Kgdms. 19:20), Luke may have felt that καταφιλειν would not sound natural to his non-Jewish Greek-speaking audience. In other words, Luke may have changed καταφιλεῖν in his source to ἀποτάξασθαι for much the same reason as Josephus did in his source.

לִנְשֹׁק (HR). Unlike Greek, Hebrew does not have a verb for “to say good-bye.”[104] In Hebrew “to kiss” can serve this function, as we see in the following examples:

וְלֹא נְטַשְׁתַּנִי לְנַשֵּׁק לְבָנַי וְלִבְנֹתָי

And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? (Gen. 31:28; RSV)

You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters good-by. (Gen. 31:28; NIV)

You did not even let me kiss my daughters and their children. (Gen. 31:28; NEB)

וַתִּשַּׁק עָרְפָּה לַחֲמוֹתָהּ וְרוּת דָּבְקָה בָּהּ

…and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. (Ruth 1:14; RSV)

Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her. (Ruth 1:14; NIV)

Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and returned to her people, but Ruth clung to her. (Ruth 1:14; NEB)

וַיֹּאמֶר אֶשְּׁקָה־נָּא לְאָבִי וּלְאִמִּי וְאֵלְכָה אַחֲרֶיךָ

…and said, “Let me kiss my father and mother, and then I will follow you.” (1 Kgs. 19:20; RSV)

“Let me kiss my father and mother good-by,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” (1 Kgs. 19:20; NIV)

…and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and then I will follow you.’ (1 Kgs. 19:20; NEB)

The different ways the various translators treated “kiss” in the above examples is an indication that they felt the Hebrew idiom “kiss” in the sense “kiss good-bye” is not readily understood in English. We believe that the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua employed a highly literal translation technique, and that in this instance Luke felt the need to give a more natural Greek equivalent, namely ἀποτάξασθαι.

The above examples also show that the root נ-ש-ק can be used either in the pa‘al (qal) or the pi‘el stems. In BH, pa‘al forms of נָשַׁק (nāshaq, “kiss”) are more common,[105] and the same is true in MH.[106] Our decision to use a pa‘al form was influenced not only by this overall trend, but also by the use of a pa‘al form in 1 Kgs. 19:20, which appears to have influenced the composition of the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope.

L33 τοῖς εἰς τὸν οἶκόν μου (Luke 9:61). The author of Luke may have added τοῖς εἰς (tois eis, “those in”) to explain the otherwise strange request to say farewell to “my house.” In Hebrew “family” is a normal meaning for בַּיִת (bayit, “house”), whereas in Greek this nuance might not be understood.[107] We believe that in the Hebrew Life of Yeshua the man asked לִנְשֹׁק לְבֵיתִי (“to kiss [good-bye] to my house [i.e., family]”), and that this request was translated into Greek as καταφιλῆσαι τὸν οἶκόν μου.[108] Luke then inserted τοῖς εἰς (“those in”) before τὸν οἶκόν μου (ton oikon mou, “my house”) in order to clarify the Hebraic usage for the sake of his non-Jewish Greek readers.

Upper register of a first or second-century C.E. Roman mosaic from Cherchel in Algeria depicting a man plowing with oxen.

Upper register of a first or second-century C.E. Roman mosaic from Cherchel in Algeria depicting a man (right) plowing with bulls in an olive grove. Another man (left) breaks up the clods turned up by the plow with a stick.

L35-36 οὐδεὶς ἐπιβαλὼν τὴν χεῖρα ἐπ᾿ ἄροτρον (Luke 9:62). “Setting the hand [sing.] to the plow” rather than “hands” (plur.) likely reflects the necessity of the plowman to guide the plow with one hand while wielding the goad with the other (see the images of plowing in this article). Jesus’ response almost certainly alludes to the call of Elisha who was plowing a field when Elijah invited him to become his disciple (1 Kgs. 19:19). Jesus’ saying about the plowman who looks back may refer to the need to stay focused ahead in order to plow a straight furrow; however, Blair suggested that the image Jesus intended was not setting one’s hand to the plow to start working the field, but to seize the plow in order to burn it as Elisha did when he determined to follow Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:21). According to Blair, “Just as Elisha laid violent hands on his plough as evidence of his complete break with his past, so Christ’s prospective follower is called to a similar renunciation.”[109] As with most proverbial sayings, Jesus’ statement is open to interpretation and need not be flattened into only a single meaning.

Roman coin of the first century C.E. depicting a priest plowing with oxen. In one hand he holds the plow, while in the other he weilds a goad. Photo courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (http://www.cngcoins.com).

Roman coin of the first century C.E. depicting a priest plowing with oxen. In one hand he holds the plow, while in the other he wields a goad. Photo courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

Although many commentators assume that by denying the man’s request to say good-bye to his family Jesus was stricter than Elijah had been with Elisha,[110] this assumption is not necessarily correct. The biblical account never says whether or not Elisha actually returned home to bid his family farewell, and it is possible that some first-century readers of the story assumed that he did not.[111] Although in Josephus’ retelling of the story Elisha does return home (Ant. 8:354), a very different scenario is envisioned in an aggadic treatment of the Elijah-Elisha story:

מפני מה זכה אלישע שחיו שני מתים על ידו, מפני שעשה רצונו של מי שאמר והיה העולם, ומניין שתדע לך שכן, כשאמרה רוח הקודש לאליהו…ואת אלישע [וגו′] תמשח לנביא תחתיך [וגו′] וילך משם וימצא את אלישע בן שפט מאבל מחולה וגו′ שקל במלאכתו שנים עשר צמדים לפניו, ויעבר אליהו וישלך אדרתו עליו מיד הניח את כל אשר לו וירץ אחריו, שנאמר ויעזב את הבקר וגו′ מיד הפקיד את כל אשר לו וזרע את כל השדה מלח, שנאמר וישב מאחריו ויקח את צמד הבקר ויזבחהו וגו′‏

What was Elisha’s merit that allowed him to raise two people from the dead? It was that he did the will of the One who spoke and the world came into being. And how can you know this? Because the Holy Spirit said to Elijah…Elisha…you will anoint as a prophet in your place…. And he went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah (1 Kgs. 19:16, 19) who is skilled at his labor, [since he plowed with] twelve yoke of oxen before him (1 Kgs. 19:19).[112] And Elijah came over and cast his cloak upon him (ibid.): immediately he left everything he had and ran after him, as it is said, And he forsook the oxen… (1 Kgs. 19:20). Immediately he renounced ownership[113] of everything he had and sowed his field with salt,[114] as it is said, And he returned from after him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them (1 Kgs. 19:21). (Seder Eliyahu Rabbah 5:7 [p. 22-23])

Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, the source that contains this tradition about Elijah’s calling of Elisha, is rather late, but the tradition itself may be much earlier. Note that the statement “he left everything he had” fits Jesus’ expectations precisely (see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L97; Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L17). It is quite likely that both views—that Elijah did permit Elisha to bid his family farewell and that he did not—were current in the first century. The would-be disciple who requested deferment in order to take leave of his family may have been hoping that Jesus subscribed to the more lenient interpretation of the Elijah-Elisha story, while Jesus’ reply suggests that Jesus adopted the more rigorous view.

πᾶς ὁ ἐπιβαλὼν τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ ἐπ᾿ ἄροτρον (GR). The author of Luke may have improved the Greek style of his source by changing “everyone who puts his hand on the plow” to “no one who puts a hand on the plow.” We saw a similar editorial “improvement” in Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L112-113, where we believe a Greek editor changed πᾶς ὅς ἀφῆκεν οἰκίαν (“everyone who leaves his house”) to οὐδείς ἐστιν ὃς ἀφῆκεν οἰκίαν (“there is no one who leaves house”).[115]

כָּל הַנּוֹתֵן יָדוֹ עַל הַמַּחֲרֵשָׁה (HR). Examples of -כָּל הַ followed by a participle abound in MT,[116] DSS,[117] and rabbinic literature.[118] The combination ἐπιβάλειν + χείρ + ἐπί occurs 6xx in LXX, where it is the translation of שָׁלַח יָד אֶל (Gen. 22:12;  2 Kgdms. 18:12), שָׁת יָד עַל (Gen. 46:4), -נָתַן אֶת יָד בְּ (Exod. 7:4), נָטָה יָד עַלהֵנִיף יָד עַל (Isa. 11:15). In DSS we find the phrase יתנו יד בכלי המלחמה (“they will place a hand on the weapons of war”; 1QM I, 17) and 3xx the phrase תן ידכה בעורף אויבכה (“place your hand on the neck of your enemies”; DSS Study Edition).[119] In rabbinic literature we find נתן יד with the preposition עַל instead of -בְּ as in the Bible and DSS. Compare, for example, Rabbi Hanina’s testimony about Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi’s conduct during prayer:

אני ראיתי את רבי מפהק ומעטש ונותן ידיו על פיו אבל לא רוקק

I saw Rabbi yawning and sneezing and putting his hand on his mouth [during prayer], but not spitting. (y. Ber. 3:5 [28a])

Another example of נָתַן יָד עַל is found in a comment on the story of Noah’s sons who covered their father’s nakedness (Gen. 9:23):

נתנו ידיהם על פניהם והיו מהלכין לאחוריהם

…they placed their hands on their faces and walked backwards. (Gen. Rab. 36:6)[120]

In direct speech we prefer a MH style (i.e, נָתַן יָד עַל) for our reconstruction over the biblicizing style of the DSS (i.e., -נָתַן יָד בְּ).

Lower register of a first or second-century C.E. Roman mosaic from Cherchel in Algeria depicting a man plowing with oxen.

Lower register of a first or second-century C.E. Roman mosaic from Cherchel in Algeria depicting a man (left) plowing with oxen. Another man (right) scatters seeds that the plow will turn into the soil.

L36 ἐπ᾿ ἄροτρον (Luke 9:62). LXX has ἄροτρον (arotron, “plow”) 5xx (1 Chr. 21:23; Sir. 38:25; Mic. 4:3; Joel 4:10; Isa. 2:4), where it is 3xx the translation of אֵת (’ēt, “plowshare”), the sharp metal part of the plow that one does not hold on to while plowing.[121] However, in Greek we find the phrase ὁ κρατῶν ἀρότρου (“the one grasping a plow”; Sir. 38:25), demonstrating that ἄροτρον can refer to the entire plowing implement.

עַל הַמַּחֲרֵשָׁה (HR). We have already observed that אֵת (“plowshare”) is unsuitable for HR, since this is the metal part of the plow that goes into the ground, not the part held by the hand. The same objection can also be raised against מַחֲרֵשָׁה (maḥarēshāh, “plowshare”), which refers to the metal part of the plow that cuts into the earth.[122] The sole biblical passage where מַחֲרֵשָׁה appears (1 Sam. 13:20-21)[123] refers to the need for sharpening the מַחֲרֵשָׁה (i.e., the metal plowshare). Most instances of מַחֲרֵשָׁה in the Mishnah also clearly refer to metal plowshares. Thus, m. Orl. 1:3 refers to the מַחֲרֵשָׁה breaking up a clod of earth, m. Bab. Bat. 2:12 refers to roots obstructing the progress of the מַחֲרֵשָׁה, and m. Ohol. 17:2 refers to removing soil from the מַחֲרֵשָׁה.

This mosaic from the first half of the third cent. C.E. depicts a man plowing with one hand and wielding a goad in the other.

This mosaic from the first half of the third cent. C.E. depicts a man (right) plowing with one hand and wielding a goad with the other. Another man (left) scatters seeds onto the ground.

Given the primary meaning of מַחֲרֵשָׁה, we considered reconstructing ἄροτρον with מַרְדֵּעַ (mardēa‘), which, according to Jastrow (837), means “the handle of the plough.”[124] In support of Jastrow’s definition, note the description of the mardēa‘, found with slight variations in rabbinic literature: מרדע על גבי המחרישה (m. Bab. Bat. 2:13; cf. b. Bab. Bat. 82b), which Jastrow renders “handle [that] protrudes over the plow.” Reconstructing ἄροτρον with מַרְדֵּעַ removes the difficulty of using a word that refers to the sharp metal plowshare that is not grasped in the hand while plowing. In addition, two tantalizing pieces of information caught our attention. First, the Ben Sira passage that mentions “the one grasping a plow,” which we cited above (Sir. 38:25), has been preserved in both Greek and Hebrew. We therefore know that ἄροτρον is the translation of מַלְמֵד (malmēd). Second, according to a rabbinic source, the three terms מַרְדֵּעַ (mardēa‘), דָּרְבָן (dorvān) and מַלְמֵד (malmēd) all refer to the same object (שלש שמות יש לו מרדע דרבן ומלמד; y. Sanh. 10:1 [50a]).[125] Combining these two pieces of information gives the following equation: ἄροτρον = מַלְמֵד‎ = מַרְדֵּעַ.

In the end, however, we decided to reconstruct with מַחֲרֵשָׁה for two main reasons. First, דָּרְבָן and מַלְמֵד, which rabbinic sources equate with מַרְדֵּעַ, are synonyms for “ox-goad.”[126] We also find that the discussion of the מַרְדֵּעַ in m. Kel. 25:2 fits the description of a goad. Second, there appear to be instances in the Mishnah where מַחֲרֵשָׁה is used pars pro toto to refer to the entire plowing implement. Thus we find the rabbinic ruling that states:

אֵלּוּ כֵלִים שֶׁאֵין הָאֻמָּן רַשַּׁיִי לְמוֹכְרָן בַּשְּׁבִיעִית מַחֲרֶשַׁה וְכָל כֵּלֶיהָ

These are implements that a craftsman may not sell in the sabbatical year: a plow and all of its equipment…. (m. Shev. 5:6)

We likewise find references to the יָתֵד שֶׁלְמַחֲרֵישָׁה (“peg of the plow”; m. Shab. 17:4) and to the בּוֹרֵךְ הַמַּחֲרֵישָׁה (“knee of the plow”; m. Ohol. 17:1), which suggest that מַחֲרֵשָׁה can, indeed, refer to the entire plowing implement, not just the metal plowshare.[127] There is no reason to suppose that if Jesus had said הַנּוֹתֵן יָדוֹ עַל הַמַּחֲרֵשָׁה (“the one who puts his hand on the plow”) that this would have been a confusing or unusual usage of מַחֲרֵשָׁה.

For the story of a plowman who left home against his father’s wishes to become a disciple of the sages, see Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 13 (ed. Schechter, 30) and the parallel in Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 6:3 (ed. Schechter, 30).

L37 καὶ βλέπων εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω (Luke 9:62). The phrase εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω (eis ta opisō, “to the back”) occurs 6xx in NT where it is confined to the Gospels.[128] In LXX, the phrase εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω is found 30xx.[129] Philo has εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω 5xx when quoting or discussing LXX (Leg. 2:94, 99, 100, 103; Agr. 94 [Gen. 49:17]). Otherwise, Philo preferred to write εἰς τοὐπίσω, a contraction of τὸ ὀπίσω (Fug. 121, 122; Somn. 1:247; Legat. 228), which is also the phrase Josephus used to the exclusion of εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω (J.W. 2:49; 6:223; Ant. 7:15, 226; 20:91; Life 397).

וּמַבִּיט אַחֲרָיו (HR). Although βλέπειν εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω (blepein eis ta opisō, “look to the back”) does not appear in LXX, we do find ἐπιβλέπειν (epiblepein) and περιβλέπειν εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω (periblepein eis ta opisō) as the translations of פָּנָה אַחַר (pānāh ’aḥar, “turn back”)[130] and הִבִּיט אַחַר (hibiṭ ’aḥar, “look back”).[131] The verb הִבִּיט occurs 70xx in MT, 52xx in DSS, and is found in rabbinic literature, although not in the Mishnah.

L38 οὐκ ἐστιν εὔθετός (GR). As noted in the Comment to L35-36, we believe the author of Luke changed the wording of his Hebraic-Greek source from “everyone who…looks back is not fit” to “no one who…looks back is fit.” There is no change in meaning, only an improvement to the Greek style for the sake of Luke’s Greek readers.

L38-39 לֹא הָגוּן לְמַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (HR). We considered כָּשֵׁר (kāshēr, “suitable,” “fit”) to be a strong candidate for reconstructing εὔθετός (evthetos, “well suited”).[132] However, the synonymous הָגוּן (hāgūn, “suitable,” “fit”) appears to be an even stronger candidate because it is frequently used in rabbinic literature to describe disciples.[133] Of particular interest are the rabbinic prohibitions against teaching an unfit disciple:

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: כל השונה לתלמיד שאינו הגון נופל בגיהנם…אמר רבי זירא אמר רב: כל השונה לתלמיד שאינו הגון כזורק אבן למרקוליס, שנאמר כצרור אבן במרגמה כן נותן לכסיל כבוד

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: “Everyone who teaches a disciple who is not fit falls into Gehenna….” Rabbi Zera said in the name of Rab: “Whoever teaches a disciple that is not fit is like someone who throws a stone at a Merkulis,[134] as it is said, Like one who binds the stone in the sling is he who gives honor to a fool [Prov. 26:8]….” (b. Hul. 133a; cf. b. Mak. 10a)

These rabbinic statements are similar to the sentiment Jesus expresses in Luke 9:62. Not everyone was fit for discipleship, and like the rabbinic sages, Jesus was unwilling to accept as disciples those who were not suited for the task.

For linguistic parallels to הָגוּן לְמַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם, note the following examples:

א″ל דואג האדומי: עד שאתה משאיל עליו אם הגון הוא למלכות אם לאו, שאל עליו אם ראוי לבא בקהל אם לאו.

Doeg the Edomite said to him [i.e., Saul]: “Instead of inquiring about him [i.e., David] whether he is fit for the kingdom [הגון למלכות; i.e., to become king] or not, inquire whether he is worthy to enter the assembly or not. (b. Yev. 76b)

לא היה לו בן הגון למלכות

He [i.e., Absalom] had no son fit for the kingdom [הגון למלכות; i.e., to become king]. (b. Sot. 11a)

ומה בר נדרי כל נשים של בית אביך היו נודרות: יהא לי בן הגון למלכות, ואני נדרתי ואמרתי: יהא לי בן זריז וממולא בתורה, והגון לנביאות

And what is the meaning of the son of my vows [Prov. 31:2]? All the women of your father’s household made vows, “Let me have a son fit for the kingdom [הגון למלכות; i.e., to become king],” but I vowed, “Let me have a son who is zealous and full of Torah and fit for prophecy.” (b. Sanh. 70b)

L39 τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν (GR). In many instances in the Synoptic Gospels Luke writes “Kingdom of God” where Matthew writes “Kingdom of Heaven.” There is no Hebrew equivalent to “Kingdom of God,” but “Kingdom of Heaven” is familiar from rabbinic literature. We believe that whenever Luke saw “Kingdom of Heaven” in his source he changed it to “Kingdom of God” for the sake of his Gentile readers who might have been confused by the term “Kingdom of Heaven.”[135] We have, accordingly, restored “Kingdom of Heaven” in GR.

Luke 9:62 is an excellent example of Jesus’ equation the Kingdom of God/Heaven with his own band of full-time disciples. The man who sought admission into Jesus’ itinerating school was denied entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. He was deemed unfit for the rigors of full-time discipleship. Jesus did not mean that the man was unworthy of redemption or excluded from salvation.[136]

Redaction Analysis

In this Double Tradition pericope Matthew and Luke show such strong verbal agreement that the conclusion that Matthew and Luke depended on the same source is all but inescapable. Nevertheless, each author adapted the pericope to a greater or lesser degree as he worked it into the context of his Gospel.

Luke’s Version

Luke’s main contributions to the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope are small improvements to the Greek style. Thus, the author of Luke changed αὐτῷ to πρὸς αὐτόν in L4 (Luke 9:57), and changed an infinitive into a participle in L21 (Luke 9:59). The author of Luke also polished the Greek style of the third aspiring disciple’s request by changing the word order in L31 (Luke 9:61), and he probably changed the Hebraic “everyone who…looks back is not fit” to the more Greek “no one who…looks back is fit” in L35-39 (Luke 9:62). Luke also may have adapted L32 and L33 (Luke 9:61) in order to make Hebrew idioms more comprehensible to his non-Jewish Greek-speaking audience. Luke also appears to be responsible for dropping the titles of address in L5 (Luke 9:57) and L19 (Luke 9:59).

Two other changes Luke introduced to the pericope are of greater significance. Luke probably transferred Jesus’ invitation in the second encounter (L16-28) to the beginning of the exchange (L16-17). This change removed what Luke may have perceived to be a literary defect, since in the conjectured pre-synoptic version the man initiates the encounter not by declaring his desire to follow Jesus or asking his permission to do so, but by asking for permission to go away.[137] By making Jesus the first speaker in the second encounter, Luke smoothed out this difficulty, but his change interrupts the pattern whereby each aspiring disciple makes a single statement to which Jesus gives a single reply.[138] The second major change Luke introduced is the addition of “go proclaim the Kingdom of God” at the end of Luke 9:60 (L28). This addition conflicts with Jesus’ invitation to “follow me,” which he had extended to the aspiring disciple, since he could not stay with Jesus and at the same time go proclaiming, and it shows that the author of Luke did not understand that the term “Kingdom of Heaven” refers to Jesus’ band of disciples. Luke’s secondary usage of “Kingdom of God” in L28 at the end of the second encounter suggests to us that the third encounter is derived from Luke’s source, since in L39 the term “Kingdom of God” is used correctly.

The changes Luke made to the pericope do not significantly alter the original meaning of the story and the changes he made to his source are mostly superficial.

Matthew’s Version

Among the most conspicuous changes Matthew introduced to this pericope is the identification of the man in the first encounter as a scribe in L1 (Matt. 8:19), and the man in the second encounter as one of the disciples in L15 (Matt. 8:21). Aside from supplying the identifying information and using the present tense instead of aorist in L8 (Matt. 8:20), Matthew appears to have preserved the wording of his source quite faithfully.[139] Nevertheless, by eliminating the third encounter Matthew altered his source much more radically than the editorial changes introduced by Luke. Omitting one component of a parallelism appears to have been habitual for the author of Matthew. Thus, Matthew omitted the Lost Coin simile, which was paired with the Lost Sheep simile in his source, as shown by their placement side by side in Luke (Luke 15:4-10). We also found that Matthew omitted the third rib of a three-part saying in Demands of Discipleship (Luke 14:33). There is no discernible motive for eliminating these parallelisms as far as their content is concerned, so it appears that the author of Matthew simply regarded the second and/or third ribs of Hebrew parallelisms as redundant.

Results of This Research

1. What is the meaning of “son of man” in this pericope? Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research scholars have differing opinions regarding Jesus’ use of the designation “son of man.” Convinced that Jesus used “son of man” as an allusion to the “one like a son of man” described in Daniel 7, Lindsey proposed reconstructing ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (ho huios tou anthrōpou, “the son of the man”) with the Aramaic phrase בַּר אֱנָשׁ (bar ’enāsh, “son of man”).[140] Buth likewise argues that by switching to the Aramaic בַּר אֱנָשׁ in the course of dialogue conducted in Hebrew, Jesus was able to allude unambiguously to the heavenly figure described in Daniel.[141] Notley, on the other hand, has argued that Jesus’ use of “son of man” need not be uniform in every context. On some occasions Jesus could use “son of man” to refer to himself as a representative member of humanity, a common usage of בֶּן אָדָם (ben ’ādām, “son of a human being”), while on other occasions “son of man” could refer to Jesus’ taking on the role of Abel, the son of the first man, Adam, who in some ancient Jewish sources is both the divinely vindicated martyr and the divinely appointed judge of humankind.[142] Flusser identified three groups of sayings about the “son of man” in the Synoptic Gospels: 1) sayings in which the “son of man” is an eschatological figure; 2) sayings that refer to the suffering and vindication of the “son of man”; and 3) sayings in which “son of man” simply means “man.”[143] This last group of sayings is distinguished by their reference to the “son of man” in the present, and according to Flusser, this group of sayings is not related to Jesus’ eschatological expectations. Flusser specifically mentioned the “son of man has no place to lay his head” saying as belonging to the third category of son of man sayings.

Does Jesus use “son of man” as a title referring to his messianic status a la Daniel 7 in the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope, or does Jesus use “son of man” in a non-titular sense? And what would be the difference in meaning? If Jesus used “son of man” in a non-titular sense, then we might understand “the son of man has no place to lay his head” as a reference to the paradox that although the birds and the beasts are automatically provided for, we human beings must toil to make a living. Since Jesus and his full-time disciples did not work for a living, but were continuously engaged in the proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven, they had forfeited the security enjoyed by those who work, and subsisted day to day by faith. Only those who were prepared to share the austere lifestyle of a human being who does not work for a living, but who depends on Heaven for his sustenance, are able to join Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven movement. If such an understanding is correct, then it is likely that there is an intentional ambiguity to the phrase “son of man,” which admits two levels of meaning. On one level, Jesus said something that is true about all human beings, while on a deeper level what is true for all humanity seems to be intensified in the case of Jesus and his full-time disciples. According to this interpretation, Jesus expressed a deep identity with the lot of humankind. Reconstructing ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου as בֶּן אָדָם would suit this interpretation.

On the other hand, Jesus may have intended to refer unambiguously to himself as the Messiah in this saying, in which case בַּר אֱנָשׁ would be preferable for reconstruction. We would then understand Jesus to mean “I, who happen to be the Messiah of Israel, have no place to lay my head, so do not think that you will fare any better.” According to this interpretation, Jesus emphasized his unique role in contrast to the rest of humankind.

2. What is the meaning of “leave the dead to bury their own dead”? Scholars have proposed numerous interpretations of this difficult saying. One approach has been the suggestion that the meaning of an originally Aramaic saying was distorted in its transmission into Greek. Perles suggested that the Aramaic saying meant “leave the dead to their burier of the dead,”[144] whereas Black (263) conjectured that the Aramaic original may have meant “let the waverers bury their dead.” Other scholars propose that in both parts of the saying νεκρός (nekros, “corpse”) is to be understood literally, with the meaning “let corpses take care of burying another corpse.” Since such a scenario is clearly impossible, the scholars who adopt the literal interpretation suppose that either Jesus expected the aspiring disciple to deny burial to his father,[145] or Jesus meant that he should let the problem of burial take care of itself.[146] Still others suppose that the first reference to the dead is to be taken figuratively while the second reference to the dead is to be taken literally, in which case the saying means “Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead.”[147] Many scholars who hold this view are of the opinion that Jesus counted everyone who did not become a disciple among the “spiritually” dead.[148] Some scholars regard Jesus saying as an expression of the inadequacy of the Torah (see below), while others regard it as a redefinition of the boundaries of the true Israel.[149]

Our position is that νεκρός should be understood figuratively in both instances, since every scenario that supposes that the aspiring disciple’s father was dead is fraught with difficulties (see above, Comment to L23). One point that seems not to have entered the discussion, however, is that there may be more than one figurative meaning of “dead.”

The figurative use of “dead” to describe the negative spiritual or moral condition of a person is well attested in ancient sources. Bultmann cited many instances of the figurative use of “dead” in non-Jewish Greek sources.[150] Kister has collected numerous examples from the writings of Philo and in rabbinic literature of the figurative use of “dead.”[151] In a subsequent study, Kister suggested that a figurative use of “dead” also appears in a Qumran text (4QInstruction [4Q418] 69 II, 4-6).[152] Examples of the figurative use of “dead” are also common in the New Testament (cf. Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13; 1 Tim. 5:6), including the Gospels (cf. Luke 15:24 [“for this my son was dead, and is alive again”; RSV], 32).

But another figurative sense of “dead” is also to be found in ancient Jewish and early Christian sources, one that does not have a moral connotation, but that simply means “no longer a contributing member of society” or “having no more life to give.” For example, in Deuteronomy we read:

עַל פִּי שְׁנַיִם עֵדִים אוֹ שְׁלֹשָׁה עֵדִים יוּמַת הַמֵּת

By the testimony of two or three witnesses the dead shall be put to death. (Deut. 17:6)

In this example, the description of the man as “the dead” is not a moral judgement,[153] but rather an allusion to his impending execution.

The declarations of the patriarchs Jacob and Joseph, אָנֹכִי מֵת (’ānochi mēt, “I am dead”; Gen. 48:21; 50:5, 24), also lend themselves to a figurative interpretation of “dead.” Although the grammatically correct translation is “I am dying,” the word מֵת can also be used as an adjective (“dead”) or as a noun (“corpse”). In these examples there is clearly no moral judgement against the patriarchs of Israel. And yet both figures could be understood as claiming to be already dead.[154]

In the New Testament, Abraham is twice referred to as νενεκρωμένος (nenekrōmenos, “being dead”; Rom. 4:19; Heb. 11:12), and in neither instance is there a negative moral connotation. Nor is an immanent death in view, since Abraham went on to live for many years after the moment alluded to by the New Testament authors. The meaning of “dead” in these passages is “no longer functioning” or “having no future.” This figurative use of “dead” is not a moral judgement of character, but a practical assessment of one’s physical condition.

It is possible that Jesus used “dead” in this sense to refer to the father of the would-be disciple who was waiting to bury him. On the other hand, perhaps Jesus did refer to the father as “dead” in a spiritual sense, yet not “dead” in the sense of morally corrupt, but “dead” in the sense that the man’s father was a typical representative of his generation, a generation in need of the redemption and revival that comes to Israel through the Kingdom of Heaven. Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones is an example of “spiritual” death that does not imply moral corruption (Ezek. 37:1-14). The vision depicted the house of Israel as spiritually dead because the people were in exile, their community was in ruins, and their hope was destroyed. Only God’s redemptive intervention—bringing them back, setting them free, renewing the covenant—could bring Israel back to life.

With the issue of Cyrus’ decree permitting the people of Israel to return to their land and rebuild the Temple, the promised redemption had been partially fulfilled. Nevertheless, many looked forward to a fuller redemption since Israel was still dominated by foreign powers, the Temple was controlled by priests that many considered to be corrupt, and the expected vindication of Israel for their loyalty to their God and his Torah had not yet taken place. In a sense, therefore, the exile still continued.[155] Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven addressed the need for a fuller completion of the promised redemption. Through Jesus’ teaching and miracles and among his band of devoted followers God’s reign was breaking into the sphere of human affairs and bringing redemption to Israel, restoring life where there had been desolation, hopelessness and oppression.[156]

Some scholars have asserted that Jesus intended to redefine the boundaries of God’s people in such a way that those who became his disciples were the true Israel, while those who did not follow him were the disinherited, spiritually dead part of Israel. And while it is true that Jesus did, on occasion, make disparaging remarks about his generation,[157] this does not seem to justify the conclusion that Jesus intended to redefine the boundaries of God’s people in similarly stark terms as did the Qumran covenanters, who regarded all outsiders as cut off from the covenant.

Unlike the Qumran community, which isolated itself from the rest of Israel, Jesus regarded his mission as embracing the entire house of Israel. It seems, moreover, that Jesus was unperturbed by the fact that many, perhaps even most, of the beneficiaries of his mission did not join his movement. Many who were healed of diseases and released from demons did not become Jesus’ disciples. Many, like Zacchaeus, who experienced spiritual renewal through Jesus’ message did not leave their former lives to follow Jesus, and yet it is difficult to imagine that Jesus regarded these people who had experienced redeeming grace through the Kingdom of Heaven as spiritually dead. It was in response to Zacchaeus’ transformation that Jesus exclaimed, “Salvation has come to this house today!” (Luke 19:9). This attitude seems to indicate an openness toward and a love for the entire house of Israel, rather than an exclusive redefinition of God’s people.

Jesus could regard the house of Israel as spiritually dead without condemning anyone in Israel for its condition or excluding anyone in Israel from the promise of life, provided that “spiritually dead” is understood along the lines of Ezekiel’s vision as “being in need of God’s redemption.” Ezekiel’s vision did not imply a rejection or condemnation of Israel, it was rather an expression of a deep yearning for Israel to be restored. The dead in Jesus’ saying may, therefore, refer to those who had not yet experienced the redemption that God was bringing to Israel through the Kingdom of Heaven. The “dead” in Jesus’ saying would include those who were still trapped by sin, disease, the affliction of evil spirits, and those who were crushed by injustice and oppression. They need not be regarded as dead and gangrenous, perilous to the living part of the body and therefore requiring amputation. They might rather be regarded as that part of God’s people into which the life-giving spirit had not yet breathed, the part of Israel that had not yet been reached.

Understanding “dead” in this way, Jesus statement would mean, “Let those who have not yet been touched by the redemption that is breaking into Israel take care of your father, but you come and be a part of God’s life-giving mission to Israel.”

3. Does Jesus’ refusal to permit the aspiring disciple to bury his father indicate that Jesus opposed the Torah or violated the precepts of first-century Judaism? According to some scholars, Jesus’ statement, “Let the dead bury their own dead,” represents a dramatic breach with the Torah and Judaism.[158] From their point of view, Jesus demanded disobedience of the commandment to honor father and mother as a prerequisite of discipleship.[159]

Other scholars have argued that Jesus’ refusal to permit the aspiring disciple to first bury his father is not out of place in first-century Jewish culture. Chana Safrai, for instance, drew attention to the similarity between Jesus’ prioritization of the Kingdom of Heaven over the duty to bury one’s parents and the rabbinic discussion about the importance of study versus performing the commandments.[160] Safrai argued that the differing opinions among the sages regarding whether it is proper to interrupt Torah study in order to participate in funeral processions (cf. b. Ket. 17a; Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, chpt. 4 [ed. Schechter, 18]; Semahot 11:7 [49a]) reveal the tension the sages perceived between the demands of discipleship and other obligations. According to Safrai, although Jesus’ position regarding the importance of discipleship relative to the burial of the dead was more stringent than that of other sages, his opinion would not have been regarded as foreign to his contemporaries.[161]

We believe that the aspiring disciple’s father was still living when Jesus said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead,” and that this saying should not, therefore, be construed as denying burial to the father. We also note that there is at least one commandment in the Torah that requires leaving one’s parents behind: the duty to procreate. According to Gen. 2:24, “for this purpose a man must forsake his father and mother and cleave to his wife.” What is more, the sages recognized that there was a certain tension between the duty to procreate and the duty to study Torah. Some sages were of the opinion that it was better to marry first and then become a disciple, while others maintained that marriage should be deferred for the sake of Torah study (cf. b. Kid. 29b).[162] One prominent sage, Ben Azzai, believed that in his own case the pursuit of Torah justified the suspension of his duty to procreate altogether (t. Yev. 8:7; cf. b. Yev. 63b).[163] Given the high value placed on Torah study, it appears that discipleship was understood, at least by some sages, to take precedence over all other obligations, in which case we have a rabbinic kal vahomer argument: if it is acceptable to forsake one’s parents in order to fulfill the duty to procreate, and if it is acceptable to defer (or even suspend) the duty to procreate in order to study Torah, then it is that much more acceptable to leave one’s parents in order to become a disciple.

We conclude that Jesus’ expectation that his disciples would leave their parents in order to follow him would not have been foreign to the Judaism of his time. Jesus’ saying (Matt. 8:22; Luke 9:60) certainly does not represent a breach with the Torah or the Jewish religion. It was rather a call, like many of Jesus’ other sayings, for the disciple to leave his livelihood, home and family members in order to engage in full-time discipleship. These demands are essentially no different from the expectations of other itinerating sages in the first century.

4. Did Matthew drop the third example (Luke 9:61-62) of a would-be full-time disciple, or did Luke (or his source) add it? Since Luke 9:61-62 is easily reconstructed in Hebrew, we believe that the third incident recorded in Luke of a man seeking to become a disciple was included in Matthew and Luke’s shared source, Anthology.[164] Another indication of its derivation from Anth. is the use of Kingdom of God/Heaven to refer to Jesus’ band of full-time disciples, a usage that we believe originates with Jesus himself, in contrast to the secondary usage of the Kingdom of God introduced by the author of Luke in 9:60b. We therefore conclude that the author of Matthew is responsible for dropping the third incident from this pericope, despite seeing it in his source. This omission is consistent with our observations of Matthew’s editorial activity in other contexts. For example, Matthew omitted the Lost Coin simile, which Luke preserves (Luke 15:8-10), and we believe that Matthew omitted the third rib of the parallelism in the Demands of Discipleship discourse (Luke 14:33).

5. Were the three men in this pericope acting inappropriately when they approached Jesus on their own initiative about becoming his disciples? Some scholars have suggested that Jesus was different from other sages of his time in that it was normative for disciples of the sages to choose their master, whereas Jesus accepted as disciples only those whom he personally selected.[165] The actual practice, however, seems to have been a little of both: a sage might invite a particularly gifted student to become his disciple, or a disciple might seek out a sage whose teaching he particularly admired.[166] In either case, the final decision rested with the sage. There is no reason to suppose the situation was different with Jesus. In fact, the saying “Whoever comes to me…” (Luke 14:26) presupposes that disciples could initiate the master-disciple relationship (see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L4). Our contention that the would-be disciples did not act inappropriately is also supported by Jesus’ invitation to the man in the second encounter to become a disciple. Had the man behaved inappropriately, it is unlikely that Jesus would have accepted him as a disciple, but the offer clearly shows that Jesus was prepared to accept the man in the second encounter, just as Jesus was prepared to accept the rich man who also declined Jesus’ offer (see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven).

Conclusion

In the Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple pericope three individuals approach Jesus to seek admission to his band of full-time disciples. Although it is possible that the three encounters described in this pericope took place on different occasions, they were crafted into a tight literary unit at a pre-synoptic stage. Each encounter is initiated by an aspiring disciple, and each elicits a response from Jesus that leaves the door open, but which none of the three prospective disciples appear to walk through. In the first and third encounters the aspiring disciples declare, “I will follow you.” The middle encounter is the only one in which the aspiring disciple does not make a confident declaration, and only in this encounter does Jesus extend an invitation to the would-be disciple to join his band of followers. The middle encounter, where Jesus’ demand seems the harshest, also portrays Jesus as going out of the way to encourage the would-be disciple to follow him.

In each of the three encounters Jesus responds with a riddle. How to make sense of them may not have been immediately evident to the prospective disciples. Why would God allow Jesus and his followers to sleep on the ground when he provides safe places even for the animals to sleep? How can the dead bury a corpse? Why would a disciple set his hand to a plow when Elisha had given up plowing in order to follow Elijah? These riddles would have to be puzzled over before their meaning was fully understood. But all of the riddles sounded ominous, and each of the three prospective disciples reconsidered his desire to join Jesus.

Jesus riddles may have sounded disheartening to the prospective disciples, but they also seem to bespeak a sense on the part of Jesus that the world was out of balance. Wild animals have what they need, but Jesus and his followers do not. The living are spiritually dead, while the disciples, who take up their crosses, are the means by which God is restoring his people to life. Many are looking backward who ought to be plowing ahead. The images in Jesus’ riddles are eerie, and the effect is heightened by the somatic imagery—head, corpse, hand—around which the riddles revolve. In such topsy-turvy times, Jesus needed disciples who were fully committed to his mission, disciples who would not grow faint when faced with challenges, hardships and danger.

It seems likely that the examples of Ruth and Elisha influenced the literary crafting of this pericope. Ruth declared that she would share whatever conditions Naomi endured. Elisha gave up his prosperous livelihood as a farmer to follow Elijah. The first and second encounters might contain echoes of Ruth’s declaration (Ruth 1:16-17), since the first encounter is about following Jesus even when he has no place to spend the night (cf. Ruth 1:16), and the second encounter is about burial (cf. Ruth 1:17). The second and third encounters might also contain echoes of the Elijah-Elisha narrative.[167] This certainly seems to be the case in the third encounter where Jesus speaks of plowing, but the influence of the Elijah-Elisha story might also be detected in the second encounter with its emphasis on the tension between the demands of discipleship and the duty to one’s family. Elisha and Ruth both showed remarkable commitment and resolve. Jesus expected nothing less from his disciples.


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  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction’.
  • [2] This translation is a dynamic rendition of our reconstruction of the conjectured Hebrew source that stands behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels. It is not a translation of the Greek text of a canonical source.
  • [3] On the Kingdom of Heaven as a designation for Jesus’ band of full-time itinerating disciples, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L64-65; David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Jesus’ Band of Itinerating Disciples.”
  • [4] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Double Tradition”; idem, “Measuring the Disparity Between Matthew, Mark and Luke,” under the subheading “Collecting Further Evidence.”
  • [5] Lindsey described FR as an epitome of Anth. that attempted to create a continuous narrative from Anth.’s literary fragments. The editor of FR also attempted to present Anth.’s material in a more polished Greek style, since Anth. preserved material that was written in a rather rough Hebraic-Greek.
  • [6] The non-canonical Gospel of Thomas (logion 86) also preserves a version of Jesus’ “foxes have dens” saying:

    Jesus said: [The foxes] [have] the[ir holes] and the birds [their] nest, but (δέ) the Son of Man has no place to lay his head and to rest. (Gos. Thom. logion 86; Guillaumont)

  • [7] Kingsbury adduces Matt. 5:18; 9:18; 18:24; 21:19, 24; 26:69 as examples. See Jack Dean Kingsbury, “On Following Jesus: The ‘Eager’ Scribe and the ‘Reluctant’ Disciple (Matthew 8. 18-22),” New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 45-59, esp. 58 n. 18. Cf. Moule, 125.
  • [8] Cf. Harnack, 11.
  • [9] Lindsey suggested that Luke may have written πορευομένων (L2; Luke 9:57) under the influence of πορευόμενον in his previous pericope (Samaritan Villagers; Luke 9:53).
  • [10] Cf., e.g., Mark 8:27 (omitted in Matt. 16:13 and Luke 9:18); 9:33 (omitted in Matt. 18:1 and Luke 9:46); 9:34 (omitted in Matt. 18:1 and Luke 9:46); 10:52 (omitted in Matt. 20:34 and Luke 18:43).
  • [11] On “Markan pick-ups,” see Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Sources of the Markan Pick-ups”; idem, “A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem,” thesis 2; Joshua N. Tilton and David N. Bivin, “LOY Excursus: Catalog of Markan Stereotypes and Possible Markan Pick-ups.”
  • [12] Cf. the baraita cited in the name of Rabbi Eleazar in b. Ber. 27b and in the minor tractate Kallah 1:24 [51b]. In the story about the man who attempted to anger Hillel, the man is rude and disrespectful in many ways, including by addressing Hillel by his first name, rather than as “Rabbi.” See Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 15:2 (ed. Schechter, 60); Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 29 (ed. Schechter, 60).
  • [13] See Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L17; and Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb, Comment to L36.
  • [14] See Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L13.
  • [15] Kingsbury uses these unfortunate descriptions for the technical sense of ἀκολουθεῖν meaning “become a disciple.” See Jack Dean Kingsbury, “The Verb Akolouthein (‘To Follow’) as an Index of Matthew’s View of His Community,” Journal of Biblical Literature 97.1 (1978): 56-73: “The difficulty one encounters in attempting to interpret the verb akolouthein in the first gospel is that it is not always immediately discernible whether it is to be understood in the strictly literal sense of ‘coming or going after a person in time, place, or sequence,’ or whether it is to assume theological or metaphorical significance in addition and hence to connote ‘coming or going after a person as his disciple'” (quotation on 57); idem, “On Following Jesus,” 46: “the figurative use of ἀκολουθεῖν appears to be almost the only matter in the interpretation of 8. 18-22 on which virtually all scholars seem able to agree.”
  • [16] As Vermes (6) stated, Jesus’ command “Follow me!” “simply means ‘Accompany me’ and not ‘Imitate my example’.
  • [17] The instances of ὅπου ἐὰν in the Gospels are Matt. 8:19; 24:28; 26:13; Mark 6:10; 9:18; 14:9, 14; Luke 9:57.
  • [18] The five examples of אֶל אֲשֶׁר in MT are Exod. 32:34; Num. 33:54; Ezek. 1:12; 42:14; Ruth 1:16.
  • [19] The only example of אֶל אֲשֶׁר we have located in DSS is found in 1QHa XX, 27:

    ואני מעפר לקח[תני ומחמר ק]ורצתי למקור נדה וערות קולן מקוי עפר ומגבל [במים סוד רמ]ה ומדור חושך ותשובת עפר ליצר חמר בקץ […י]שוב עפר אל אשר לקח משם

    And I, from dust [I] have been gathered, [and from clay] I have been [fo]rmed to be a source of impurity, and of filth, a pile of dust, mixed with [water, …] a lodging of darkness. The creature of clay must return to the dust at the end of [… ] dust [w]ill return to the place from which he has been taken. (1QHa XX, 24-27; DSS Study Edition [adapted])

  • [20] At b. Yev. 47b Ruth 1:16 is incorrectly cited as באשר תלכי אלך, which may suggest that the talmudic sages found אֶל אֲשֶׁר to be archaic.
  • [21] In rabbinic literature Ruth is regarded as a model proselyte.
  • [22] Cf. m. Kid. 4:14; t. Kid. 5:13[15]; y. Kid. 4:11 [48a]; b. Kid. 82b. For a discussion of the different versions of this aggadic tradition, see David Flusser, “‘Have You Ever Seen a Lion Toiling as a Porter?'” (Flusser, JSTP2, 331-342, esp. 336 n. 21).
  • [23] Cf. Bundy, 133.
  • [24] On the necessity for full-time disciples to leave behind property and give up their means of support, see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L17.
  • [25] On the homelessness of Jesus’ full time disciples, see Gerd Thiessen, Social Reality and the Early Christians: Theology, Ethics, and the World of the New Testament (trans. Margaret Kohl; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 37-38.
  • [26] On the rigorous lifestyle of first-century disciples, see David N. Bivin, “Jesus’ Yoke and Burden.”
  • [27] Cf. Bovon, 2:13: “He is assuredly not deprived of security, but his security resides not in material or human protection, but in God’s love and authority.”
  • [28] See F. S. Bodenheimer, Animal Life in Palestine: An Introduction to the Problems of Animal Ecology and Zoogeography (Jerusalem: L. Mayer, 1935), 111; Oded Borowski, Every Living Thing: Daily Use of Animals in Ancient Israel (Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltiMira, 1998), 203-204.
  • [29] See Tomson, 142.
  • [30] Cf., e.g., m. Kid. 4:14; m. Avot 4:15; y. Shab. 10:5 [63b]. On the 300 fox parables of Rabbi Meir, see Notley-Safrai, 35-38.
  • [31] See Randall Buth, “That Small-fry Herod Antipas, or When a Fox Is Not a Fox.”
  • [32] Cf. Judg. 15:4; 2 Esdr. 13:35; Ps. 62[63]:11; Song 2:15; Lam. 5:18; Ezek. 13:4.
  • [33] שׁוּעָל appears 9xx in the Mishnah.
  • [34] Examples of מְעוֹנָה in MT include Amos 3:4 (= μάνδρα); Nah. 2:13 (= κατοικητήριον); Ps. 104:22 (= μάνδρα [Ps. 103:22]); Job 37:8 (= κοίτη); 38:40 (= κοίτη); Song 4:8 (= μάνδρα).
  • [35] See Jastrow, 1170.
  • [36] According to B. Green (101), “Jesus’ reply [i.e., Foxes have holes etc.—DNB and JNT] has a proverbial ring, though no parallel to it has been discovered.”
  • [37] On the translation of מַרְדֵּעַ (mardēa‘) as “ox-goad,” see below, Comment to L36.
  • [38] Cf. Gen. 1:26, 28, 30; 2:19, 20, 6:7; 7:3, 23; Deut. 28:26; 1 Kgdms. 17:44, 46; 2 Kgdms. 21:10; 3 Kgdms. 16:4; 20[21]:24; Ps. 78[79]:2; 103[104]:12; Hos. 2:20; 4:3; 7:12; Zeph. 1:3; Jer. 4:25; 7:33; 15:3; 16:4; 19:7; 41[34]:20; Ezek. 29:5; 31:6; 31:13; 32:4; 38:20.
  • [39] In Gen. 40:17 τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ translates הָעוֹף (hā‘ōf, “the bird[s]”). In Ps. 8:9 τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ translates צִפּוֹר שָׁמַיִם (tzipōr shāmayim, “bird[s] of heavens”). In Ps. 49[50]:11 τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ translates עוֹף הָרִים (‘ōf hārim, “bird[s] of mountains”). In Isa. 18:6 τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (2xx) translates עֵיט הָרִים (‘ēt hārim, “bird[s] of prey of mountains”) and הָעַיִט (hā‘ayiṭ, “the bird[s] of prey”). There is no Hebrew or Aramaic equivalent for τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ in 3 Kgdms. 12:24; Judith 11:7; Hos. 2:14; Dan. 3:80.
  • [40] See David N. Bivin, “Noun Chains in the Gospels,” where Bivin cites τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ as an example of the Greek text of the Gospels reflecting the Hebrew construct state. We have not found any examples of τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ in our searches of non-Jewish Greek authors who wrote prior to the Christian period. We have found occasional instances of τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ in the writings of Christian authors who were influenced by LXX and NT.
  • [41] The expression τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (“the birds of the heaven”) is also found in Mustard Seed parable (Matt. 13:32; Mark 4:32; Luke 13:19); Sower and Soils parable (Luke 8:5; cf. Matt. 13:4 and Mark 4:4 [τὰ πετεινά]); and Discourse on Worry (Matt. 6:26; cf. Luke 12:24 [τοὺς κόρακας and τῶν πετεινῶν]).
  • [42] In DSS we do find [עוף אשר[ יעופף בשמים‎ (“birds that [will fly in the sky]”; 4QJube [4Q220] 1 I, 2 [= Jub. 21:6]) and והעוף[ המעופף בשמי]נו (“and the birds [that fly in] our [skies]”; 4Q502 7-10 I, 8), but these phrases cannot account for τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ in Greek.
  • [43] We find צִפּוֹר שָׁמַיִם only once (Ps. 8:9), whereas the expression עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם appears 38xx in MT.
  • [44] Cf. LSJ, 912.
  • [45] Cf. Marshall, 411; Bovon, 2:13 n. 18.
  • [46] The instances of κατασκήνωσις in LXX are 1 Chr. 28:2; Tob. 1:4; Wis. 9:8; Ezek. 37:27.
  • [47] Biblical examples where the root ש-כ-נ describes the habits of birds include:

    וְיַנְשֹׁוף וְעֹרֵב יִשְׁכְּנוּ בָהּ

    …the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. (Isa. 34:11; RSV)

    וְשָׁכְנוּ תַחְתָּיו כֹּל צִפֹּור כָּל כָּנָף בְּצֵל דָּלִיֹּותָיו תִּשְׁכֹּנָּה

    And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. (Ezek. 17:23; ESV)

    עַל מַפַּלְתֹּו יִשְׁכְּנוּ כָּל עֹוף הַשָּׁמָיִם

    Upon its ruin will dwell all the birds of the air…. (Ezek. 31:13; RSV)

    וְהִשְׁכַּנְתִּי עָלֶיךָ כָּל עֹוף הַשָּׁמַיִם

    …and [I] will cause all the birds of the air to settle on you…. (Ezek. 32:4; RSV)

    מִי יִתֶּן לִּי אֵבֶר כַּיֹּונָה אָעוּפָה וְאֶשְׁכֹּנָה

    O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest…. (Ps. 55:7[6]; RSV)

    עֲלֵיהֶם עֹוף הַשָּׁמַיִם יִשְׁכֹּון

    By them the birds of the air have their habitation…. (Ps. 104:12; RSV)

  • [48] Examples in rabbinic literature of the root ש-כ-נ describing the habits of birds include:

    כל עוף למינו ישכון

    Every bird nests with its kind. (b. Bab. Kam. 92b [quoting Sir. 13:15, which reads in Greek πᾶν ζῷον ἀγαπᾷ τὸ ὅμοιον αὐτῷ (“Every living thing loves what is like to it”; NETS)])

    שכן עם טמאים טמא עם טהורים טהור

    [A bird that] nests with impure [birds] is [considered to be] impure; [if it nests] with pure [birds, then] pure. (b. Hul. 65a)

  • [49] See Barnabas Lindars, “Re-Enter the Apocalyptic Son of Man,” New Testament Studies 22 (1975): 52-72; Geza Vermes, “The Use of Bar Nash/Bar Nasha in Jewish Aramaic,” in Post-biblical Jewish Studies (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 147-165; idem, “The Present State of the ‘Son of Man’ Debate,” in Jesus and His Jewish Context (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 81-90 and the literature cited there; George W. E. Nickelsburg, “The Son of Man in Judaism and Early Christianity,” in Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism and Early Christianity (rev. ed.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006), 281-314.
  • [50] See Randall Buth, “‘Son of Man’: Jesus’ Most Important Title”; idem, “A More Complete Semitic Background for בר־אנשא, ‘Son of Man’,” in The Function of Scripture in Early Jewish and Christian Tradition (ed. Craig A. Evans and James A. Sanders; Sheffield: Sheffield, 1998), 176-189; R. Steven Notley, “Jesus and the Son of Man.”
  • [51] See Robert L. Lindsey, “The Hebrew Life of Jesus,” under the subheading “Jesus’ Interrogation by the Chief Priests.”
  • [52] See David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction’,” under the subheading “Goals of ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction’.”
  • [53] While Bivin accepts Lindsey’s conclusion regarding “son of man” in the Gospels, Tilton finds himself more in agreement with the approach of Flusser, who interpreted some “son of man” sayings as applying to all human beings, and not exclusively to an eschatological figure. See Flusser, Jesus, 124-133.
  • [54] For our choice of אֵיכָן in preference to other Hebrew words meaning “where?” see Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb, Comment to L17.
  • [55] Another example of a non-interrogative use of אֵיכָן is:

    תני מטמא כהן ויוצא חוצה לארץ…ללמוד תורה ולישא אשה רבי יהודה אומר אם יש לו מאיכן ללמוד אל יטמא רבי יוסי אומר אפילו יש לו מאיכן ללמוד תורה יטמא שלא מכל אדם זוכה ללמוד

    It was taught [in a baraita]: A priest may render himself impure by going outside the land [of Israel]…in order to study Torah or to marry a woman. Rabbi Yehudah says, “If he has someplace from which [יש לו מאיכן] to study [in the land of Israel] he may not render himself impure.” Rabbi Yose says, “Even if he does have a place from which [יש לו מאיכן] to study Torah [in the land of Israel] he may render himself impure, since he may not be worthy to study under everyone.” (y. Ber. 3:1 [23b])

  • [56] See Shmuel Safrai, “Home and Family” (Safrai-Stern, 2:736).
  • [57] Kλίνειν is the translation of נָטָה in Judg. 9:3; 16:30; 19:8; 2 Kgdms. 22:10; 3 Kgdms. 2:28 (2xx); 4 Kgdms. 20:10; Ps. 17[18]:10; 20[21]:12; 61[62]:4; 101[102]:12; 118[119]:112.
  • [58] Kλίνειν is the translation of הִטָּה in 3 Kgdms. 11:3 (Alexandrinus); 4 Kgdms. 19:16; 2 Esd. 7:28; 9:9; Ps. 16[17]:6; 30[31]:3; 44[45]:11; 48[49]:5; 70[71]:2; 77[78]:1; 85[86]:1; 87[88]:3; 101[102]:3; 114[116]:2; 118[119]:36; 143[144]:5; Prov. 21:1; Isa. 37:17 (Vaticanus); Jer. 17:22[23]; 41[34]:14; 42[35]:15; 51[44]:5; Dan. 9:18 [TH].
  • [59] The same use of הִטָּה is found in a baraita:

    מעשה בר′ ישמעאל ובר′ אלעזר בן עזריה שהיו שרוין במקום אחד והיה ר′ ישמעאל מוטה ור′ אלעזר זקוף והגיע זמן ק″ש ונזקף ר′ ישמעאל והטה רבי אלעזר

    An anecdote about Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah who were staying in one place, and Rabbi Ishmael was reclining and Rabbi Eleazar was upright. When the time came for the reciting of the Shema, Rabbi Ishmael stood upright and Rabbi Eleazar reclined. (t. Ber. 1:6[4]; cf. y. Ber. 1:3 [8b]; b. Ber. 11a)

  • [60] Cf. Harnack, 11, 133; Davies-Allison, 2:54; Bovon, 2:11.
  • [61] See Brad Young and David Flusser, “Messianic Blessings in Jewish and Christian Texts” (Flusser, JOC, 290). Cf. Dalman, 327; Kingsbury, “The Verb Akolouthein,” 60; idem, “On Following Jesus,” 51.
  • [62] Cf. Metzger, 149.
  • [63] On the rationale for basing our reconstruction on a single NT manuscript, see David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction’,” under the subheading “Codex Vaticanus or an Eclectic Text?”
  • [64] Cf. Davies-Allison, 2:54; Nolland, Luke, 2:542.
  • [65] See Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb, Comments to L7 and L49.
  • [66] Cf. m. Sanh. 6:5; Acts 5:6, 10. On first-century Jewish burial and mourning customs, see Shmuel Safrai, “Home and Family” (Safrai-Stern, 2:773-787).
  • [67] Byron R. McCane, “‘Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead’: Secondary Burial and Matt 8:21-22,” Harvard Theological Review 83.1 (1990): 31-43, quotation on 39.
  • [68] Buchanan (2:397) and Vermes (104) do mention ritual purity as posing difficulties for the common assumption that the aspiring disciple’s father had recently died.
  • [69] One way to salvage the interpretation that the conversation between the would-be disciple and Jesus took place after the father’s death but prior to his burial is to suppose that the man was informed of his father’s death while he was in the crowd listening to Jesus, or that he met Jesus on the way home having just been informed of his father’s death.
  • [70] Among the scholars who have accepted McCane’s thesis, or who have at least regarded it as a credible explanation, are Nolland (Matt., 368); J. Green (408-409); Craig A. Evans, Jesus and the Ossuaries (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2003), 13; and Eyal Regev, “Family Burial, Family Structure, and the Urbanization of Herodian Jerusalem,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 136.2 (2004): 109-131, esp. 114.
  • [71] See Rahmani, 24: “The limited use of ossuaries is evidenced in this period [i.e., 70-135 C.E.—DNB and JNT] in the Galilee. Here, too, the custom of ossilegium was most likely introduced after 70 CE and may have continued for a decade or two after 135 CE.”
  • [72] Magness argues that burial in rock-cut tombs was a luxury enjoyed only by the upper classes in first-century Judea. See Jodi Magness, “Archaeologically Invisible Burials in Late Second Temple Period Judea,” in All the Wisdom of the East: Studies in Near Eastern Archaeology and History in Honor of Eliezer D. Oren (ed. Mayer Gruber et al.; Fribourg: Academic Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 235-248. If Magness is correct, then according to McCane’s scenario we would have to suppose that the aspiring disciple came from a wealthy family. However, we harbor some doubts regarding Magness’ opinion.
  • [73] According to Berlin, “No cemeteries, not even single stray tombs, that date before 70 C.E. have yet been identified from Jewish settlements in Galilee or Gaulanitis…. The earliest that any…tombs can be dated is the late first century C.E., i.e., after the destruction of Jerusalem.” See Andrea M. Berlin, “Jewish Life Before the Revolt: The Archaeological Evidence,” Journal for the Study of Judaism: In the Persian Hellenistic & Roman Period 36.4 (2005): 417-470, quotation on 464.
  • [74] See Rahmani, 21-23. According to Berlin, “Over 800 [rock-cut burial caves—DNB and JNT] have been discovered around Jerusalem and over 100 in the Judean countryside.” See Berlin, “Jewish Life Before the Revolt,” 454. Cf. Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 151-155.
  • [75] According to Rahmani (23-24), the practice of ossilegium probably spread to other parts of Judea and to the Galilee as a result of the displacement of Jerusalem’s residents in 70 C.E.
  • [76] As Cohen explains, “A corpse was first buried temporarily in a cave and later transferred to a permanent burial-place in the family tomb. This is termed ‘gathering the bones’” (emphasis ours). See Abraham Cohen, trans., The Minor Tractates of the Talmud (2 vols.; London: Soncino, 1965), 1:389 n. 5; cf. Zlotnick, 158 n. 1.
  • [77] See, for example, the following passages in which the practice of ossilegium is discussed and in which the verb קָבַר does not appear:

    הַשּׁוֹמֵעַ עַל מֵתוֹ וְהַמְ{ת}לַקֵּט בעֲצָמוֹת טוֹבֵל וְאוֹכֵל בַּקָּדָשִׁים

    A person who hears of the death [of a family member] and a person who gathers bones immerses and eats of the sacrifices. (m. Pes. 8:8)

    וְעוֹד אָמַ′ ר′ מֵאִיר מְלַקֵּט אָדָם עַצְמוֹת אָבִיו וְאִימּוֹ מִפְּנֵי שֶׁשִּמְחָה לוֹ ר′ יוֹסֵה אוֹ′ אֶבֶל הוּא לוֹ

    Rabbi Meir also said, “A man gathers the bones of his father or his mother [on an intermediate holy day] because it is a happy occasion for him.” Rabbi Yose said, “It is a mournful occasion for him.” (m. Moed Kat. 1:5)

    אמ′ ר′ אלע′ בר′ צדוק כך היו חבורות שבירושלם נוהגות אילו לסעודת אירוסין ואילו לסעודת נישואין אילו לשבוע הבן ואילו ללקט עצמות אילו לבית המשתה ואלו לבית האבל שבוע הבן ולקוט עצמות שבוע הבן קודם לליקוט עצמות

    Rabbi Eliezer bar Rabbi Zadok said, “This was the practice of the societies in Jerusalem: There were those for betrothal banquets, those for wedding banquets, those for the week of a son’s birth, and there were those for gathering bones. There were those for the house of celebration, and those for the house of mourning.” [If there occurred both] the week of a son’s birth and the time for the gathering of bones, the week of a son’s birth takes precedence over the gathering of bones. (t. Meg. 3:8[15]; cf. Semahot 12:5 [49a])

  • [78] ‎According to Jastrow (117) ברארין is a textual corruption that should read בארזין. Rahmani states that אֲרָזִין (arāzin) is a foreign word unrelated to the Hebrew term for cedar (אֶרֶז, ’erez). See Levi Yizḥaq Raḥmani, “Ossuaries and Ossilegium (Bone-Gathering) In the Late Second Temple Period,” in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed (ed. Hillel Geva; Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994), 191-205, esp. 197.
  • [79] Rabbi Eliezer ben Zadok lived in the first century C.E. See S. Mendelsohn, “Eliezer (Eleazar) b. Zadok,” JE 5:120. Cf. Rahmani, 53.
  • [80] For example, in the case of a person who was executed by the Jewish courts we read:

    וְלֹא הָיוּ קוֹבְרִין אוֹתָם בְּקִבְרוֹת אֲבוֹתֵיהֶין אֶלָּא שְׁנֵי קְבָרוֹת הָיוּ מוּתְקַנִין לְבֵית דִּין אֶחָד לַנִּיסְקָלִים וְלַנִּישְׂרָפִים וְאֶחָד לַנֶּהְרָגִים וְלַנֶּחְנָקִים: נִיתְאַבֵל הַבָּשָׂר הָיוּ מְלַקְטִין אֶת הָעֲצָמוֹת וְקוֹבְרִין אוֹתָן בַּמָקוֹם

    And they would not bury them [i.e., individuals who were executed—DNB and JNT] in the graves of their ancestors, rather, the court had two graves prepared: one for the stoned and the burned, and one for the beheaded and the strangled. After the flesh had decayed they would gather the bones and bury them in their own place [i.e., in the family tomb—DNB and JNT]. (m. Sanh. 6:5-6)

    Here we find “burial” in conjunction with ossilegium because the bones had to be reburied, having been removed from the grave belonging to the court. The Tosefta’s parallel to m. Sanh. 6:6 reads:

    ניתעכל הבשר שלוחי בית דין מלקטין העצמות וקוברין אותן בארון

    After the flesh had decayed, representatives of the court gather the bones and bury them in a chest. (t. Sanh. 9:8 [ed. Zuckermandel, 429]; cf. y. Sanh. 6:10 [30a])

    If from this Tosefta passage we are to understand that the bones remained in the grave belonging to the court, then we do have an example of קָבַר used for the interment of bones in an ossuary. However, it is likely that the Tosefta does not contradict what we learn from the Mishnah, but rather supplements it by informing us that it was representatives of the court who would collect the bones and take them to the family of the condemned man for reburial.

    Another reference to the burial of bones is found in the Jerusalem Talmud’s explanation of Rabbi Meir’s opinion that the day of collecting bones was a happy occasion:

    ועוד א″ר מאיר מלקט אדם עצמות אביו ואמו מפני ששמחה היא לו. בראשונה היו קוברין אותן במהמורות נתאכל הבשר היו מלקטין את העצמות וקוברין אותן ברזים אותו היום היה מתאבל ולמחר היה שמח לומר שנינוחו אבותיו מן הדין.‏‎

    And Rabbi Meir also said, “When a man gathers the bones of his father or his mother [on an intermediate holy day], it is a happy occasion for him.” In times past they would bury them [the person executed by the court] in mounds. After the flesh decayed, they would gather the bones and bury them in an ossuary [reading בארזים for ברזים; cf. Jastrow, 1464]. On that day he [the son] would mourn, but on the following day he would rejoice because his ancestors were at rest from the judgement. (y. Moed Kat. 1:5 [5a])

    This same tradition is repeated in another context (y. Sanh. 6:10 [30a]) where it is clear that Rabbi Meir’s statement refers to the collection of bones belonging to a person executed by the Jewish courts (cf. Rahmani, 54), in which case the bones were removed from one grave to be buried in another. That the bones had to be reinterred is also indicated by the continuation of y. Moed Kat., which goes on to discuss the transportation of bones in a chest from one place to another.

    The only passage we have identified where the root ק-ב-ר may be used in connection with ossilegium, when removal of the bones from the tomb is not envisioned, is in y. Pes. 8:8 [63a].

  • [81] Genesis 50:26, where LXX renders the phrase וַיַּחַנְטוּ אֹתוֹ (“and they embalmed him”) as καὶ ἔθαψαν αὐτὸν (“and they buried him”), is the sole exception.
  • [82] We further note that McCane does not refer to the rabbinic opinion that a person may perform the rite of ossilegium for anyone except his or her father and mother (Semahot 12:7 [49a]; cf. Semahot 12:9 [49b]). Not all sages accepted this opinion; nevertheless, it appears to have been the prevailing custom for someone other than the mourner to collect the bones of the deceased (cf. Zlotnick, 158 n. 1). This being the case, if McCane is correct that the man requested a deferral from following Jesus in order to perform the rite of ossilegium, then we would still have to reject McCane’s conclusion that Jesus demanded that the father’s bones be left ungathered, since it was customary for someone other than the children of the deceased to collect the bones. And likewise, we would still have to reject McCane’s interpretation that by refusing the man’s request Jesus set aside the obligation to honor one’s parents, since the reason for the opinion that children were not permitted to perform ossilegium for their parents was precisely the desire to preserve the dignity of the deceased.
  • [83] See Lindsey, JRL, 67; Buchanan, 1:398; Vermes, 104. Montefiore (TSG, 2:134) cites Rashdall in favor of this view (see Hastings Rashdall, Conscience and Christ: Six Lectures on Christian Ethics [London: Duckworth, 1916], 179). Bovon (2:16) notes that the view that the aspiring disciple’s father was still alive goes back at least to Cyril of Alexandria (early fifth cent. C.E.). See Sermon 58 in R. Payne Smith, trans., A Commentary Upon the Gospel According to S. Luke, by S. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria (2 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1859), 1:263.
  • [84] Marshall (411) entertains the possibility that “the father was old and on the point of death.” Cf. Plummer, 266.
  • [85] One would expect an aspiring disciple to have at least as much faith in Jesus’ healing power as the centurion (Matt. 8:10; Luke 7:9), or the synagogue ruler (Matt. 9:18; Mark 5:22; Luke 8:41), or the members of Simon’s family (Healing of Shimon’s Mother-in-law; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38).
  • [86] In the Hebrew Bible there are a few instances where a person’s burial is anticipated long before the actual event. For example, God promised Abraham, at a time before he had even had children, that he would be buried at a good old age (Gen. 15:15), and Ruth promises Naomi, long before the death of either woman, that she would be buried with her (Ruth 1:17).
  • [87] See Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L5.
  • [88] Cf. Marshall, 411; Nolland, Luke, 2:541; Witherington, 188; Bovon, 2:11.
  • [89] Menahem Kister, “‘Leave the Dead to Bury their Own Dead’,” in Studies in Ancient Midrash (ed. James Kugel; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001), 43-56, esp. n. 23.
  • [90] Although Terah’s death is reported in Gen. 11:32, prior to the call of Abraham, Gen. 11:26 states that Terah was 70 years old when Abraham was born, while Gen. 12:4 states that Abraham set out from Haran at age 75. That would make Terah 145 years old at the time of Abraham’s call, yet according to Gen. 11:32 Terah died at the age of 205. Hence Terah was still living when Abraham set out for the land of Canaan.
  • [91] Rabbi Isaac’s assumption about Terah’s character is probably based on Josh. 24:2, which says, “Long ago your fathers lived beyond the river, Terah the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.”
  • [92] According to Kister, “There are…reasons to suppose that R. Issac transmits an ancient solution to an old problem” (“‘Leave the Dead to Bury Their Own Dead’,” 46).
  • [93] Cf. Edwin A. Abbott, The Fourfold Gospel (5 vols.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913-1917), 3:139.
  • [94] Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 34-35. Jesus referred to his own band of full-time disciples as the Kingdom of Heaven, but he also referred to the Kingdom of Heaven as a divine activity specifically linked to the redemption of Israel. The call of Abraham was certainly a turning point in redemption history, and so, too, was the period that saw the Kingdom of Heaven being inaugurated through Jesus’ healing and teaching mission. On the multi-faceted concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, see David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua.”
  • [95] Cf. Fitzmyer, 1:836; Nolland, Luke, 2:543.
  • [96] See Kister, “‘Leave the Dead to Bury Their Own Dead’,” 48 n. 23.
  • [97] Ibid., 49 n. 23.
  • [98] See T. W. Manson, The Teaching of Jesus (2d ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 122. Cf. Marshall, 412; Bovon, 2:13.
  • [99] See M.D. Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew (London: SPCK, 1974), 323; Michael G. Steinhauser, “Putting One’s Hand to the Plow: The Authenticity of Q 9:61-62,” Forum 5.2 (1989): 151-158, esp. 153.
  • [100] The NT instances of ἀποτάξασθαι are Mark 6:46; Luke 9:61; 14:33; Acts 18:18, 21; 2 Cor. 2:13.
  • [101] The verb ἀποτάξασθαι occurs 7xx in LXX, but only once is there a Hebrew equivalent. In Eccl. 2:20 ἀποτάξασθαι renders לְיַאֵשׁ, which is a rather free translation.
  • [102] We likewise attribute ἀποτάξασθαι in Luke 14:33 to Luke’s editorial activity. See Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L16.
  • [103] Among the scholars who recognize the influence of the Elijah-Elisha narrative on our pericope are: Fitzmyer, 1:214; Craig A. Evans, “Luke’s Use of the Elijah/Elisha Narratives and the Ethic of Election,” Journal of Biblical Literature 106.1 (1987): 75-83, esp. 81; Thomas L. Brodie, “Luke 9:57-62: A Systematic Adaptation of the Divine Challenge to Elijah (1 Kings 19),” in SBL 1989 Seminar Papers, 237-245. According to Kister, “The influence of the story about Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21) on Jesus’ saying has been recognized, and rightly so…. The similarity between the biblical Elijah-Elisha stories and some stories in rabbinic literature about ‘the first hasidim’ was shown by G.B. Sarfatti, ‘Pious Men, Men of Deeds, and the Early Prophets,’ Tarbiz 26 (1957): 126-53 (in Hebrew). Jesus seems to be rather close to these circles (as has been shown). It is doubtful, therefore, whether such parallels point to ‘Jesus’ prophetic consciousness’ (Davies and Allison, 57)” (Kister, “‘Leave the Dead to Bury Their Own Dead’,” 47, 48 n. 20). On the similarities between Jesus and the early Hasidim, see Shmuel Safrai, “Jesus and the Hasidim”; idem, “The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the First Century,” under the subheading “Galilean Pietism and Jesus of Nazareth.” On the Hasidim in general, see Shmuel Safrai, “Teaching of Pietists in Mishnaic Literature,” Journal of Jewish Studies 16 (1965): 15-33; idem, “The Pharisees and the Hasidim,” Sidic: Journal of the Service Internationale de Documentation Judéo-Chrétienne 10.2 (1977): 12-16; idem, “Hasidim we-Anshei Ma’aseh” (“Pietists and Miracle-Workers”), Zion 50 (1985): 152-154.
  • [104] English is like Hebrew in this respect. In English we have to use phrases like “say good-bye,” “bid farewell,” or “take leave,” because we, too, lack a verb for this action.
  • [105] In MT, there are over 20 instances of נ-ש-ק for “to kiss” in the pa‘al stem, but only 5 instances of נ-ש-ק for “to kiss” in the pi‘el stem.
  • [106] In a survey of the Mishnah, Tosefta and the Jerusalem Talmud, we identified 13 instances of נ-ש-ק for “to kiss” in the pa‘al stem (m. Rosh Hash. 2:9; t. Hag. 2:1; t. Naz. 4:6[7]; t. Sanh. 10:2[3]; t. Nid. 5:6[15]; y. Ber. 1:5 [10b]; 3:6 [29b]; y. Eruv. 3:2 [20a]; 7:9 [49b]; y. Hag. 2:1 [9a]; y. Naz. 1:5 [5a]; 4:6 [19b]; y. Hor. 3:5 [19b]), whereas we identified only 5 instances of נ-ש-ק for “to kiss” in the pi‘el stem (m. Sanh. 7:6; t. Sanh. 10:2[3]; t. Toh. 3:5[8]; y. Shab. 2:7 [20b]; y. Ket. 7:6 [45b]).
  • [107] It is possible that when the man asked permission to say good-bye to his “house” he meant to refer specifically to his wife, since occasionally “house” is equated with “wife” in rabbinic literature (cf. m. Yom. 1:1; b. Yom. 13a; b. Shab. 118a). On the nuances of בַּיִת, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L113.
  • [108] In LXX -נשק ל is rendered as καταφιλῆσαι + accusative in Gen. 31:28; 32:1; 45:15; Exod. 4:27; Ruth 1:9, 14; 2 Kgdms. 14:33; 15:5; 19:40; 20:9; 3 Kgdms. 19:20.
  • [109] Hugh J. Blair, “Putting One’s Hand to the Plough: Luke ix. 62 in the light of 1 Kings xix. 19-21,” Expository Times 79.11 (1968): 342-343. Bovon (2:14 n. 33) dismisses Blair’s interpretation.
  • [110] Cf. T. W. Manson, 73; Beare, 154; Marshall, 412; Fitzmyer, 1:834; Nolland, Luke, 2:540, 543; J. Green, 407.
  • [111] See Kister, “‘Leave the Dead to Bury Their Own Dead’,” 45 n. 9.
  • [112] This aggadic tradition assumes that Elisha plowed with all twelve yoke of oxen at once by himself and therefore concludes that he was exceptionally skilled at his labor.
  • [113] The translation follows the reading הפקיר (hifqir, “renounce ownership”) as suggested by Braude-Kapstein (52 n. 32).
  • [114] Sowing a field with salt was a method of rendering it useless to anyone who might come later (cf. Judg. 9:45). See Weston Fields, “Salted with Fire.”
  • [115] See Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L112-113.
  • [116] Examples of -כָּל הַ followed by a participle in MT include Gen. 21:6; Exod. 19:12; Judg. 19:30; Zech. 5:3.
  • [117] For examples of -כָּל הַ followed by a participle in DSS, cf. CD VIII, 19; XI, 21; 1QS V, 7.
  • [118] Examples of -כָּל הַ followed by a participle in rabbinic literature, cf. m. Ber. 2:8; m. Shev. 10:9; m. Ter. 7:4; m. Shab. 2:3; 7:1; 12:1; 23:5; and the important baraita in b. Kid. 66a.
  • [119] 1QM I, 11; XIX, 3; 4Q492 1 I, 3.
  • [120] Further examples of נָתַן יָד עַל can be found in m. Nid. 5:8; Gen. Rab. 65:15; 96:5.
  • [121] Cf. BDB, 88; Wilhelm Nowack, “Plowing,” JE 10:90-91.
  • [122] Cf. BDB, 361.
  • [123] In 1 Sam. 13:20-21 מַחֲרֵשָׁה occurs 3xx. The second instance of מַחֲרֵשָׁה in 1 Sam. 13:20 may be due to a scribal error. See BDB, 361; P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., I Samuel: A New Translation With Introduction, Notes and Commentary (AB 8; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980), 234.
  • [124] The noun מַרְדֵּעַ does not occur in MT or DSS, however it is found in the Mishnah (m. Bab. Bat. 2:13; m. Kel. 9:7 [3xx]; 17:8; 25:2; m. Ohol. 16:1 [3xx]) and the Tosefta (t. Shab. 1:8[18]; t. Rosh Hash. 1:16[17]; t. Kel. Bab. Metz. 6:4[12]; t. Kel. Bab. Bat. 3:2[5]; t. Ohol. 7:1; 15:9[12], 10[14]).
  • [125] Compare the parallel tradition in Num. Rab. 14:4:

    א″ר תנחומא המשנה קראה אותו מרדע והמקרא קרא אותו דרבן ומלמד

    Rabbi Tanhuma said, “The Mishnah calls it mardēa‘, but the Bible calls it dorvān or malmēd.” (Num. Rab. 14:4)

  • [126] דָּרְבָן occurs 2xx in MT (1 Sam. 13:21; Eccl. 12:11) and 3xx in the Mishnah (m. Kel. 9:6; 25:2; 29:7). מַלְמֵד occurs in MT in Judg. 3:31 and in the Mishnah in m. Kel. 9:6.
  • [127] On plows in the Second Temple and Talmudic periods, see K. D. White, Agricultural Implements of the Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 123-145; Jehuda Feliks, “Agricultural Methods and Implements in Ancient Erez Israel: Plowing,” in Encyclopedia Judaica (ed. iCecil Roth and Geoffrey Wigoder; 16 vols.; Jerusalem: Keter, 1971-1972), 2:374-375; Safrai-Stern, 2:651.
  • [128] The phrase εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω appears in Mark 13:16; Luke 9:62; 17:31; John 6:66; 18:6; 20:14.
  • [129] We find εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω in the following LXX passages: Gen. 19:17, 26; 49:17; Josh. 8:2, 20; 1 Kgdms. 24:9; 2 Kgdms. 1:22; 2:20; 4 Kgdms. 9:18, 19; 20:10, 11; 1 Macc. 9:47; Ps. 9:4; 34:4; 39:15; 43:11; 43:19; 49:17; 55:10; 69:3; 77:66; 113:3, 5; 128:5; Prov. 25:9; Isa. 28:13; 42:17; 44:25; Lam. 1:13.
  • [130] In Josh. 8:20 καὶ περιβλέψαντες οἱ κάτοικοι Γαι εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω αὐτῶν = וַיִּפְנוּ אַנְשֵׁי הָעַי אַחֲרֵיהֶם; and in 2 Kgdms. 2:20 καὶ ἐπέβλεψεν Αβεννηρ εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω αὐτοῦ = וַיִּפֶן אַבְנֵר אַחֲרָיו.
  • [131] In Gen. 19:17 μὴ περιβλέψῃς εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω = אַל תַּבִּיט אַחֲרֶיךָ; in Gen. 19:26 καὶ ἐπέβλεψεν ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω = וַתַּבֵּט אִשְׁתּוֹ מֵאַחֲרָיו; and in 1 Kgdms. 24:9 καὶ ἐπέβλεψεν Σαουλ εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω αὐτοῦ = וַיַּבֵּט שָׁאוּל אַֽחֲרָיו.
  • [132] A verbal form of the root כ-ש-ר appears 3xx in MT (Eccl. 10:10; 11:6; Esth. 8:5), but adjectival forms are lacking in MT and DSS. However, in MH the adjective כָּשֵׁר is quite common, appearing over 400xx in the Mishnah. For the construction -כָּשֵׁר לְ (kāshēr le, “suitable for”) compare the following examples:

    אָב וּבְנוֹ וְכָל הַקְּרוֹבִים כְּשֵׁרִים לְעֵדוּת הַחוֹדֶשׁ

    A father and his son and all their relatives are suitable for testimony about the new moon (m. Rosh Hash. 1:7)

    הַכֹּל כְּשֵׁירִים לִקְרוֹת אֶת הַמְּגִילַּה חוּץ מֵחֵרֵשׁ שׁוֹטֶה וְקָטָן

    Everyone is suitable for reading the megilah except for one who is deaf, someone who is intellectually impaired, or a minor. (m. Meg. 2:4)

    כָּל הַיּוֹם כָּשֵׁר לקְרִיאַת [[הַ]]מְּגִילָה וְלִקְרִיאַת [[הַ]]הַלּל

    The entire day is suitable for reading [the] megilah and for reading [the] hallel. (m. Meg. 2:5)

    הַכֹּל כְּשֵׁירִים לִכְתוֹב אֶת הַגֵּט אֲפִילּוּ חֵרֵשׁ שׁוֹטֶה וְקָטָן

    Everyone is suitable for writing a writ of divorce, even a person who is deaf, a person who is intellectually impaired, and a minor. (m. Git. 2:5)

    בִּתוֹ כְּשֵׁירָה לִכְהוּנָּה

    His daughter is suitable for the priesthood. (m. Kid. 4:6, 7)

  • [133] See, for example, the numerous examples in b. Taan. 7a:

    אם תלמיד חכם הגון הוא כטל, ואם לאו עורפהו כמטר

    If a disciple of the sages is fit he is like dew, but if not drop him like rain [Deut. 32:2].

    אם תלמיד חכם הגון הוא ממנו תאכל ואתו לא תכרת, ואם לאו אתו תשחית וכרת

    If a disciple of the sages is fit, eat from him and do not cut him down [Deut. 20:19], but if not destroy him and cut him down [Deut. 20:20].

    אם תלמיד הגון הוא לקראת צמא התיו מים, ואי לא הוי כל צמא לכו למים

    If he is a fit disciple, then, To the thirsty bring water [Isa. 21:14], but if not, then, Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters [Isa. 55:1].

    אם תלמיד הגון הוא יפוצו מעינתיך חוצה, ואם לאו יהיו לך לבדך

    If he is a fit disciple, then scatter your springs abroad [Prov. 5:16], but if not, let them be for yourself alone [Prov. 5:17].

  • [134] That is, an idolator. A Merkulis is a heap of stones erected in honor of the god Mercury. Passers-by who wished to honor the god would add a stone to the pile. See David Flusser, “Paganism in Palestine” (Safrai-Stern, 2:1065-1100, esp. 1087-1088).
  • [135] See the full discussion of this problem in David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “Which is correct: ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ or ‘Kingdom of God’?”
  • [136] T. W. Manson (73) comments: “‘Fit for the Kingdom of God’ means here fit for its tasks, rather than worthy of its rewards.”
  • [137] Cf. Bovon, 2:11.
  • [138] See Kingsbury, “On Following Jesus: The ‘Eager’ Scribe and the ‘Reluctant’ Disciple,” 45.
  • [139] Witherington (188) writes: “The general consensus is that the Matthean form of this material is closer to the original than the Lukan form.”
  • [140] See Robert L. Lindsey, “The Hebrew Life of Jesus,” under the subheading “Jesus’ Interrogation by the Chief Priests.”
  • [141] See Randall Buth, “‘Son of Man’: Jesus’ Most Important Title”; idem, “A More Complete Semitic Background for בר־אנשא, ‘Son of Man’,” in The Function of Scripture in Early Jewish and Christian Tradition (ed. Craig A. Evans and James A. Sanders; Sheffield: Sheffield, 1998), 176-189.
  • [142] See R. Steven Notley, “Jesus and the Son of Man.”
  • [143] Flusser, Jesus, 126.
  • [144] See F. Perles, “Zwei Übersetzungsfehler im Text der Evangelien,” Zeitschrift für die neutest. Wissenschaft 19 (1919): 96-103, cited in Abrahams, 2:183; Montefiore, TSG, 2:134. Cf. Frank Zimmerman, The Aramaic Origin of the Four Gospels (New York: Ktav, 1979), 51.
  • [145] McCane, who argues that burial refers to ossilegium in this story, supposes that Jesus intended for the man to not bother about collecting his father’s bones. See McCane, “‘Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead’,” 40-41.
  • [146] So T. W. Manson, 73. Cf. Nolland (Matt., 368), who writes, “Jesus’ words [are] absurd if taken literally. But it was never intended to be taken literally. The force of the words is, ‘Let other arrangements be made; you have more pressing duties.'” According to Luz (2:18), Jesus formulated “an oxymoron: ‘Let the dead make arrangements among themselves to bury themselves’.”
  • [147] Cf. Thomas Robinson, The Evangelists and the Mishna: Illustrations of the Four Gospels Drawn From Jewish Traditions (London: James Nisbet, 1859), 58; Martin Hengel, The Charismatic Leader and His Followers (trans. James Greig; New York: Crossroad, 1981), 8; Fitzmyer, 1:386.
  • [148] Cf. Plummer, 267; Marshall, 411; Davies-Allison, 2:56; Buchanan, 2:399; B. Green, 101; Witherington, 188.
  • [149] On this view, see Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “‘Leave the Dead to Bury their own Dead’: Q 9.60 and the Redefinition of the People of God,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26.1 (2003): 39-68.
  • [150] See Rudolf Bultmann, “νεκρός, νεκρόω, νέκροσις,” TDNT 4:892-895.
  • [151] See Menahem Kister, “‘Leave the Dead to Bury Their Own Dead’,” 49-56.
  • [152] See Menahem Kister, “Divorce, Reproof, and Other Sayings in the Synoptic Gospels: Jesus Traditions in the Context of ‘Qumranic’ and other Texts,” in Text, Thought, and Practice in Qumran and Early Christianity: Proceedings of the Ninth International Symposium of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature, Jointly Sponsored by the Hebrew University Center for the Study of Christianity, 11-13 January, 2004 (ed. Ruth A. Clements and Daniel R. Schwartz; Leiden: Brill, 2009), 195-229, esp. 198-199.
  • [153] However, the fact that he was guilty would later play into the hands of homilists who wanted to make a point about spiritual death. See Kister, “‘Leave the Dead’,” 50.
  • [154] Cf. Albright-Mann, 96.
  • [155] See Michael A. Knibb, “The Exile in the Literature of the Intertestamental Period,” Heythrop Journal 17.3 (1976): 253-272, and the essays contained in Exile: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Conceptions (ed. James M. Scott; Leiden: Brill, 1997).
  • [156] It is no accident that Jesus drew a connection between the miracles and expulsions of demons that characterized his mission and Israel’s redemption from Egypt (Luke 11:20; cf. Matt. 12:28). See R. Steven Notley, “By the Finger of God.”
  • [157] On Jesus’ disparaging remarks about his generation, see Matt. 12:38-42 and Luke 11:29-32 (Generations that Repented Long Ago); Matt. 11:16-19 and Luke 7:31-35 (“This Generation Is Like Children Playing”); Matt. 23:34-36 and Luke 11:49-51 (Yeshua’s Critique of Pharisees). Jesus was not unique in regarding his generation as suffering from moral decline. A similar sentiment is reflected in the teachings of John the Baptist, who called his generation to repentance. The Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition likewise reflects the attitude that the generations toward the end of the Second Temple period were sinful. See, for example, the story of the bat kol (heavenly voice) declaring that although Hillel was worthy to receive the Holy Spirit, the unworthiness of his generation prevented him from receiving this honor (t. Sot. 13:3), and Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s litany of annulments due to the moral decline of the generation leading up to the revolt against Rome (t. Sot. 14:1[1-4]).
  • [158] According to Hengel, “Jesus’ answer…expresses his sovereign freedom in respect of the Law of Moses” (Hengel, The Charismatic Leader, 11).
  • [159] See, for example, Sanders, who writes, “Despite the relative neglect of this pericope I regard it as being the most revealing passage in the synoptics for penetrating to Jesus’ view of the law, next only to the conflict over the temple…. The positive thrust—a call to discipleship which is urgent and which overrides other responsibilities—has been generally appreciated…. What is important here is to see the force of the negative thrust: Jesus consciously requires disobedience of a commandment understood by all Jews to have been given by God…. At least once Jesus was willing to say that following him superseded the requirements of piety and the Torah. This may show that Jesus was prepared, if necessary, to challenge the adequacy of the Mosaic dispensation” (E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985], 252-255).
  • [160] See Chana Safrai, “The Kingdom of Heaven and the Study of Torah” (JS1, 169-189, esp. 187).
  • [161] Other scholars have reached similar conclusions, albeit on other grounds. Thus, according to Bockmuehl, “the notion of a special religious duty transcending even basic family obligations is one that would have been culturally familiar to Jesus’ audience, regardless of whether they agreed with him or not.” See Markus Bockmuehl, “‘Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead’ (Matt. 8:22/Luke 9:60): Jesus and the Halakhah,” Journal of Theological Studies 49 (1998): 553-581, esp. 576-577. Cf. Vermes, 104.
  • [162] See Isaac Newman, “Talmudic Discipleship,” in Encyclopedia Judaica Yearbook (Jerusalem: Keter, 1989), 33-40, esp. 38-39; David N. Bivin, “Was Jesus a Confirmed Bachelor?
  • [163] Ben Azzai’s opinion should be compared to that of the Apostle Paul, as articulated in 1 Cor. 7:25-35.
  • [164] Other scholars have argued that all three incidents were found in Matthew and Luke’s shared source. According to Marshall (408), “Since this third encounter is so closely parallel to the second, it is hard to see why Luke should have invented it, and it is more likely that it stems from Q.” Cf. Steinhauser, “Putting One’s Hand to the Plow,” 154.
  • [165] See, for instance, Gill, 82; K. H. Rengstorf, “μαθητής,” TDNT 4:444.
  • [166] Both practices are attested in rabbinic literature. See, for example, the exhortation for sages to raise up many disciples in m. Avot 1:1, compared to Rabban Gamliel’s dictum to “provide yourself with a teacher” in m. Avot 1:16. The former saying implies that the sage takes the initiative, whereas the initiative lies with the disciple in the latter. Note the statement in Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 18 (ed. Schechter, 39) that it is incumbent upon a man to get himself a teacher (חייב אדם לעשות לו רב).
  • [167] The influence of the Elijah-Elisha narrative on the second encounter is recognized by many scholars. Cf. Schweizer, 221; Davies-Allison, 2:54-55; Bovon, 2:13.

Comments 7

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  2. Have you considered that foxes do not live or even sleep in foxholes, nor do birds live or sleep in nests? These are both places where babies are nurtured until they are able to stand on their own. If you read it from that standpoint then how does the third part about the head fit into this construct?

    1. Joshua N. Tilton

      Hi Joshua,
      Thank you for your question, although I’m not sure I fully accept its premise. According to the sources I’ve read, foxes in Israel do have burrows where they sleep. Likewise, the saying probably doesn’t refer to a bird’s nest, but to a roost, where it would spend the night.
      The provisional conclusion I’ve reached is that this saying is about how God automatically supplies animals with their needs whereas human beings have to work for their sustenance. Therefore it would require extraordinary trust for a disciple to abandon his means of livelihood in order to follow Jesus on his tour through the towns and villages of Israel.

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