Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance

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In Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance John the Baptist challenges his audience, which had gone through all the trouble of going out to the Jordan River to receive his baptism, to accept his even more important advice: to repent of their evil deeds and imitate the faithfulness of Abraham their father.

Matt. 3:7-10; Luke 3:7b-9

(Huck 2; Aland 14; Crook 17)[1]

Revised: 11 November 2021

וַיַּרְא אוֹתָם וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם יְלִידֵי צִפְעֹנִים מִי הִגִּיד לָכֶם לָנוּס מֵחֲרוֹן הָאַף הֶעָתִיד לָבוֹא [עֲלֵיכֶם] עֲשׂוּ פְּרִי רָאוּי לַתְּשׁוּבָה וְאַל תַּתְחִילוּ לוֹמַר בִּלְבַבְכֶם אָבִינוּ אַבְרָהָם אֲנִי אוֹמֵר לָכֶם יָכוֹל אֵל לְהָקִים מִן הָאֲבָנִים הָאֵלּוּ בָּנִים לְאַבְרָהָם וּכְבָר הַקּוֹרְדּוֹם לְעִקָּר הָעֵצִים מוּעָד כָּל עֵץ שֶׁאֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה פְּרִי טוֹב נֶעֱקָר וּבָאֵשׁ נָתוּן

And seeing them approach, Yohanan the Immerser said to the crowds, “You wicked spawn of adders! Who told you that immersing yourselves would help you escape the divine anger that’s overtaking you? Was it I? If you believed me when I told you about the danger, then why don’t you believe me when I tell you about the solution? Act in a way that will bring your repentance to fruition!

“Don’t fool yourselves saying, ‘Our father is Abraham: he will deliver us.’ I assure you that from these stones God is able to raise up sons and daughters for Abraham. Already the mattock for chopping out the roots has been appointed! Every ‘tree’ that does not bear the ‘fruit’ of repentance is uprooted and burned.”[2]






To view the reconstructed text of Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance, click on the link below:

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Story Placement

Despite its absence in the Gospel of Mark, the authors of Luke and Matthew placed Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance in precisely the same position in their respective Gospels. It is likely that both authors knew that Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance belonged before—not after—the Baptist’s warnings of a Coming One who would purify the “threshing floor” because they both relied upon a source (the Anthology) that presented the material on John the Baptist in this order.

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Conjectured Stages of Transmission

Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance is a Double Tradition (DT) pericope characterized by high verbal identity. Lindsey noted that DT pericopae can be classified into two groups, one (designated Type 1) typified by strong verbal agreement, the other (designated Type 2) typified by a high degree of verbal disparity. According to Lindsey, strong verbal agreement in DT pericopae was achieved when the authors of Luke and Matthew both relied on the same source, which Lindsey called the Anthology (Anth.). On the other hand, Lindsey believed that low levels of verbal identity were the result of Luke’s use of a condensed, stylistically polished version of Anth. called the First Reconstruction (FR) for a pericope, parallel to Matthew’s use of Anth. for his version of the same pericope.[3] While the use of different sources may not be the only reason for verbal disparity in a given DT pericope—both the author of Luke and the author of Matthew were capable of changing the wording of their source(s)—we agree that the classification of a DT pericope as either Type 1 or Type 2 is a fairly accurate indicator of which source the author of Luke relied upon for a given pericope.[4] With respect to Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance, the probability is that both authors copied this pericope from Anth.

Most scholars ascribe Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance to a source common to Luke and Matthew, usually identified as “Q.”[5]

Crucial Issues

  1. Did John the Baptist’s warning that his audience would be unable to claim Abraham as their father constitute a radical break with Second Temple Judaism?


L1-2 ἰδὼν δὲ πολλοὺς τῶν Φαρεισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων (Matt. 3:7). Along with many other scholars, we doubt that Matthew’s source (Anth.) referred to Pharisees and Sadducees who came out to inspect John’s baptism.[6] The author of Matthew mentioned the Sadducees far more frequently than did the other Gospel writers (Matt. 7xx; Mark 1x; Luke 1x),[7] and we can see from the Markan and Lukan parallels that the author of Matthew occasionally inserted Sadducees where they did not appear in his sources (Matt. 16:1 [cf. Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16], 6 [cf. Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1]).[8] Moreover, Matthew is the only Synoptic Gospel to portray cooperation between the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 3:7; 16:1, 6, 11, 12), whereas the ancient sources testify that the Pharisees and Sadducees were highly antagonistic toward one another (cf., e.g., Acts 23:6-8; Jos., Ant. 13:293-298; m. Yad. 4:7).[9] The only time the leaders of the Pharisees and Sadducees were able to set aside their differences was during the revolt against Rome, when external pressures forced competing factions to overcome internal differences.[10] Given the author of Matthew’s tendency to insert references to the Sadducees into his narrative, and in view of the historical animosity between the Pharisees and Sadducees, the mention of Sadducees in Matt. 3:7 is a priori suspicious. But Matthew’s portrayal of the Pharisees’ antagonism toward John the Baptist also seems unlikely. While the Pharisees may not have agreed with John’s views regarding the ritually defiling effects of sin,[11] they certainly believed in the power and necessity of repentance.[12] It should also be noted that the Hebrew term for repentance, תְּשׁוּבָה (teshūvāh), does not occur in DSS, and its absence in this corpus may be no mere accident. According to Essene doctrine, humanity was divided into two groups: the Sons of Light, who were directed into the paths of righteousness, and the Sons of Darkness, who were directed into the paths of wickedness (1QS III, 19-IV, 1). Their concept of double predestination may well have precluded a belief in repentance.[13] In his call for Israel to find renewal through repentance, therefore, John the Baptist would have found common cause with the Pharisees.[14]

Thus it appears that Luke’s account, according to which John addressed his brusque message to the crowds (Luke 3:7; L5), is more historically accurate.[15] It is possible, however, that Matthew’s use of the adjective πολύς (polūs, “many”) preserves an echo of Anth.’s wording, for in A Voice Crying, Comment to L53, we suggested that in Luke’s source πολύς may have modified the noun ὄχλος (ochlos, “crowd”). If, as we believe, Anth. referred to “large crowds going out” to John the Baptist in A Voice Crying, L53, then here in Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance, L1, in which John notices the crowds, all that is required is a simple pronoun (viz., αὐτούς [avtous, “them”]), which is what we have adopted for GR. The author of Matthew, it seems, replaced Anth.’s “And seeing them, he said…” with the more elaborate, and historically implausible, “And seeing many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the baptism, he said….”

L1 וַיַּרְא אוֹתָם (HR). On reconstructing participle + δέ + aorist, such as we have in GR L1-4, with vav-consecutives, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L37-41. On reconstructing ἰδεῖν (idein, “to see”) with רָאָה (rā’āh, “see”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L10, where we encounter the similar construction καὶ ἰδών + aorist, likewise reconstructed with vav-consecutives.

L3 ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα (Matt. 3:7). Matthew’s wording in L3 probably preserves a faint echo of Anth.’s wording in A Voice Crying, L53-57, which described large crowds which were going out (ἐκπορευόμενοι) to John to be immersed in his presence (βαπτισθῆναι ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ).

L4 εἶπεν αὐτοῖς (GR). Matthew’s “he said to them” parallels Luke’s “therefore he was saying” in A Voice Crying, L52. As we discussed in A Voice Crying, Comment to L52-57, the first half of Luke 3:7 appears to represent the author of Luke’s paraphrase of Anth.’s transition from A Voice Crying to Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance. Since Matthew’s third person aorist εἶπεν (eipen, “he said”) is more Hebraic than Luke’s imperfect ἔλεγεν (elegen, “he was saying”), and since the use of ἔλεγεν/ἔλεγον is typical of Lukan redaction,[16] we have accepted Matthew’s wording for GR.

L5-6 The words from Luke 3:7 that appear in L5-6 have been reconstructed as the conclusion of A Voice Crying (L53-57).

L7 γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν (GR). Beginning with “offspring of poisonous snakes” and continuing to the conclusion of Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance, there is so much verbal agreement between Luke and Matthew that little comment regarding the reconstruction of Anth. is required. Both the authors of Luke and Matthew copied this pericope with a high degree of fidelity to their mutual source, Anth.

A Levant Viper, the only poisonous snake common in all parts of the land of Israel. Plate from H. B. Tristram, The Survey of Western Palestine: The Fauna and Flora of Palestine (London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1884), opposite 147. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Nolland noted that the LXX phrase ἔκγονα ἀσπίδων (ekgona aspidōn, “offspring of asps”; Isa. 11:8; 14:29; 30:6) is similar to John the Baptist’s phrase γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν (gennēmata echidnōn, “offspring of poisonous snakes”).[17] We should not fail to point out, therefore, that had the authors of Matthew and Luke desired to imitate the vocabulary of LXX, ἔκγονα ἀσπίδων was readily available to them. That they did not use this Septuagintal phrase says something about their own inclinations (i.e., that they did not change the wording of their sources to bring it in line with LXX vocabulary) and about the nature of their sources (i.e., that their sources did not attempt to mimic LXX).

יְלִידֵי צִפְעֹנִים (HR). Flusser noted that John the Baptist’s outburst against the “brood of vipers” is reminiscent of a passage in the Qumran Thanksgiving Scroll where the eschatological outbreaking of evil is described in terms of a woman who is pregnant with a viper (אֶפְעֶה [’ef‘eh]; 1QHa XI, 12).[18] In an earlier passage the author of the Thanksgiving Scroll thanked God for deliverance from ruthless persons described as a congregation of Belial (i.e., Satan) (1QHa X, 21-22). Recollecting his dire straits, the hymn writer exclaimed:

וכהמון מים רבים שאון קולם נפץ וזרם להשחית רבים למזורות יבקעו אפעה ושוא בהתרומם גליהם ואני במוס לבי כמים ותחזק נפשי בבריתך

Like a torrent of many waters was the clamor of their voice, a gale and a rainstorm to destroy many. From crushed [eggs][19] are hatched a viper [אֶפְעֶה] and falsehood [שָׁוְא] in the upsurge of their waves. But as for me, when my heart melted like water, you strengthened my soul by your covenant. (1QHa X, 27-28)

Both passages in the Thanksgiving Scroll relate manifestations of evil to the birthing of vipers, and both appear to depend on a difficult section of Isaiah, which reads:

אֵין קֹרֵא בְצֶדֶק וְאֵין נִשְׁפָּט בֶּאֱמוּנָה בָּטוֹחַ עַל תֹּהוּ וְדַבֶּר שָׁוְא הָרוֹ עָמָל וְהוֹלֵיד אָוֶן בֵּיצֵי צִפְעוֹנִי בִּקֵּעוּ וְקוּרֵי עַכָּבִישׁ יֶאֱרֹגוּ הָאֹכֵל מִבֵּיצֵיהֶם יָמוּת וְהַזּוּרֶה תִּבָּקַע אֶפְעֶה

There is no one who cries justly, and none are judged in good faith; they depend on emptiness and speak falsehood [שָׁוְא], they become pregnant with trouble and they cause iniquity to be born. They hatch the eggs of an adder [צִפְעוֹנִי], they weave the webs of a spider; the one who eats of their eggs will die, and from that which is crushed a viper [אֶפְעֶה] is hatched. (Isa. 59:4-5)[20]

Common to the Isaiah passage, the Thanksgiving Scroll and John the Baptist’s term of abuse is the correlation of wickedness, poisonous snakes and the birthing process. The Damascus Document, too, alludes to Isa. 59:5, stating with reference to fellow Israelites who have not joined the Essene sect that “their eggs are the eggs of adders [צִפְעוֹנִים]” (CD-A V, 14). Flusser suggested that since John the Baptist was familiar with Essene or Essene-like concepts, John might have appropriated their use of Isa. 59:5 to denigrate sinners. Accordingly, Flusser suggested that the Hebrew behind the phrase γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν (gennēmata echidnōn, “offspring of poisonous snakes”) was either יְלִידֵי אֶפְעֶה (yelidē ’ef‘eh, “ones born of a viper”) or יְלִידֵי צִפְעֹנִים (yelidē tzif‘onim, “ones born of adders”).[21] The noun ἔχιδνα (echidna), which does not occur in LXX, is a generic term for “poisonous snake,” and could be applied either to the viper or the adder.[22] However, since we do not find any examples in the Hebrew Bible, DSS or rabbinic literature of אֶפְעֶה (“viper”) in the plural,[23] of the two reconstructions Flusser suggested, יְלִידֵי צִפְעֹנִים is preferable, as it conforms more closely to the Greek text of the Gospels, which has the plural noun ἐχιδνῶν (“of poisonous snakes”).

A snake snatches a bird from the air in this detail of the Nile Mosaic from Palestrina. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The choice of יָלִיד (yālid, “one who is born,” “descendant”) as the reconstruction of γέννημα (gennēma, “offspring”) is supported by one of the two instances of γέννημα in LXX. In Judg. 1:10 we find the phrase γεννήματα τοῦ Ενακ (gennēmata tou Enak, “offspring of Anak”), which is applied to three individuals: Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. Although γεννήματα τοῦ Ενακ in Judg. 1:10 has no equivalent in MT, the Greek phrase is clearly equivalent to יְלִידֵי הָעֲנָק (yelidē hā‘anāq, “the ones born of Anak”), which describes Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai in Num. 13:22 and Josh. 15:14. The other instance of γέννημα in LXX occurs in Sir. 10:18. A Hebrew manuscript of Ben Sira (MS A) reads יְלוּד (yelūd, “one born of”), which is another viable option for HR.

Whereas some scholars prefer to link the derogatory epithet “offspring of poisonous snakes” to the imagery of fleeing the coming wrath, claiming that John intended his listeners to imagine snakes slithering away from a burning field or desert fire,[24] we believe those scholars are correct who regard “offspring of poisonous snakes” as a preliminary to John’s attack on relying on Abrahamic ancestry for deliverance.[25] Nevertheless, we note that the use of the plural noun ἐχιδνῶν challenges the equation of the Baptist’s “offspring of poisonous snakes” with “children of the devil,”[26] which has been advanced by some scholars.[27]

Detail of the Palestrina Nile Mosaic depicting a krokottas, perhaps to be identified with the hyena. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

We have found no evidence to corroborate Bovon’s claim that “brood of vipers” was an imprecation used by Jews to describe Gentiles.[28]

Nor do we find any merit in Lachs’ convoluted argument that “brood of vipers” in Matt. 3:7 and Luke 3:7 is the result of a Greek translator’s mistaking the Aramaic term ‎אפעא, meaning “spotted cat” or “hyena,” for אֶפְעֶה (“viper”).[29] Lachs’ argument is based on the assumption that since the epithet “brood of vipers” is directed against the Pharisees in all three of its Matthean occurrences (Matt. 3:7; 12:34; 23:33), the epithet ought to be an accusation of hypocrisy, but hypocrisy is not a known attribute of vipers or of snakes in general. Lachs does not prove that spotted cats or hyenas had a reputation for hypocrisy either, but he argues that they could have had such a reputation, since hyenas or spotted cats are “outwardly beautiful but inwardly cruel.” But again, Lachs failed to produce sources describing the aesthetic excellence of hyenas/spotted cats or sources that attribute to them cruelty. Moreover, since the insertion of the Pharisees into Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance is likely to be redactional, as are the two instances when the author of Matthew placed the epithet “brood of vipers” on the lips of Jesus, there is no foundation for the assumption that the epithet has anything to do with hypocrisy.

A mosaic from Tzippori (Sepphoris) depicting a spotted cat. Image courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

Knowles’ suggestion that “brood of vipers” is based on a wordplay between שָׂרָף (sārāf, “fiery serpent”), סוֹפֵר (sōfēr, “scribe”) and פָּרוּשׁ (pārūsh, “Pharisee”) founders on the same objection that the association of the epithet “brood of vipers” with “Pharisees” is a purely Matthean invention and therefore cannot be traced back to a Hebrew source.[30]

L8 מִי הִגִּיד לָכֶם (HR). Although most instances of ὑποδεικνύναι (hūpodeiknūnai, “to show,” “to inform”) in LXX occur as the translation of הִגִּיד‎,[31] the LXX translators more frequently rendered the verb הִגִּיד (higid, “tell”) as ἀναγγέλλειν (anangellein, “to report,” “to announce”) or ἀπαγγέλειν (apangelein, “to report,” “to announce”).[32] It is not surprising, therefore, that none of the eight instances of the question מִי הִגִּיד (mi higid, “Who told…?”) or מִי יַגִּיד (mi yagid, “Who will tell…?”) that occur in MT were translated in LXX using the verb ὑποδεικνύναι, which occurs in Matt. 3:7 // Luke 3:7.[33] Nevertheless, because ὑποδεικνύναι so often occurs in LXX as the translation of הִגִּיד we feel justified in our reconstruction.

John the Baptist points to the axe at the root of the tree in this 11th-cent. manuscript illumination. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What is the answer to John’s question? Who was it that told the people about the wrath to come? The simplest answer is that it was John the Baptist himself. John the Baptist warned his compatriots that if they did not avail themselves of the LORD’s Sabbatical or Jubilee amnesty, they would find themselves caught up in the judgment, when the Temple would be purged of impurity and the people of Israel would be purged of corruption. But John’s baptism was not a magical rite.[34] Only true repentance would allow for true purification from sin impurity. Therefore, the point of John’s question was to ask, “If you believed my warnings enough to come to me to be baptized, then why don’t you believe me enough to repent of your sins, which is the only way your baptism will have any effect?”

L9 לָנוּס מֵחֲרוֹן הָאַף הֶעָתִיד לָבוֹא [עֲלֵיכֶם] (HR). We have chosen to reconstruct φεύγειν (fevgein, “to escape”) with נָס (nās, “escape”) because most instances of φεύγειν in LXX occur as the translation of נָס,[35] and likewise the LXX translators rendered most instances of נָס with φεύγειν.[36]

Our selection of חֲרוֹן אַף (arōn ’af, “fierce anger”) as the reconstruction of ὀργή (orgē, “anger”) has been influenced by our supposition that the wording of John’s question was influenced by Zeph. 2:2 and its greater context:

גַּם כַּסְפָּם גַּם זְהָבָם לֹא יוּכַל לְהַצִּילָם בְּיוֹם עֶבְרַת יי וּבְאֵשׁ קִנְאָתוֹ תֵּאָכֵל כָּל־הָאָרֶץ כִּי כָלָה אַךְ נִבְהָלָה יַעֲשֶׂה אֵת כָּל־יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ׃ הִתְקוֹשְׁשׁוּ וָקוֹשּׁוּ הַגּוֹי לֹא נִכְסָף׃ בְּטֶרֶם לֶדֶת חֹק כְּמֹץ עָבַר יוֹם בְּטֶרֶם לֹא יָבוֹא עֲלֵיכֶם חֲרוֹן אַף יי בְּטֶרֶם לֹא יָבוֹא עֲלֵיכֶם יוֹם אַף יי׃ בַּקְּשׁוּ אֶת יי כָּל־עַנְוֵי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר מִשְׁפָּטוֹ פָּעָלוּ בַּקְּשׁוּ צֶדֶק בַּקְּשׁוּ עֲנָוָה אוּלַי תִּסָּתְרוּ בְּיוֹם אַף יי

Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them on the day of the LORD’s wrath. And in the fire of his zeal the whole earth will be consumed. He will make a sudden end of all the inhabitants of the earth. Gather yourselves! Gather, O despised nation, before the decree is issued—that day will pass by like chaff—before the fierce anger [חֲרוֹן אַף; LXX: ὀργήν] of the LORD comes [יָבוֹא] upon you, before the day of the LORD’s anger comes. Seek the LORD, all the meek of the earth, who act according to his judgments. Seek justice. Seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden on the day of the LORD’s anger. (Zeph. 1:18-2:3)

Zephaniah’s prophecy describes the coming judgment in terms of a fire and blowing chaff, images that occur elsewhere in John the Baptist’s preaching. Moreover, Zeph. 2:2 contains a rare instance of a term for “anger” used in conjunction with the verb בָּא (bā’, “come”).[37] This rare confluence of vocabulary in the greater context of Zeph. 2:2 and John the Baptist’s preaching argues in favor of influence of the former upon the latter. In LXX ὀργή (orgē, “anger”) occurs as the translation of several terms for “anger” or “wrath,” including קֶצֶף (qetzef, “wrath”), חָרוֹן (ḥārōn, “anger”), אַף (’af, “anger”) and the combination חֲרוֹן אַף (arōn ’af, “fierce anger”).[38]

Reconstructing μέλλειν (mellein, “to be about to”) poses a challenge because it so rarely occurs in LXX as the translation of a Hebrew word or phrase.[39] In one of the few instances where μέλλειν represents something other than an imperfect verb, it occurs as the translation of the adjective עָתִיד (‘ātid, “ready”; Job 3:8). In MH עָתִיד came to be used in combination with -לְ + infinitive with the meaning “about to happen” or “going to be.”[40] We suspect that τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς (tēs mellousēs orgēs, “the coming anger”) in Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance is an attempt to translate the Hebrew expression חֲרוֹן הָאַף הֶעָתִיד לָבוֹא (arōn hā’af he‘ātid lāvō’, “the fierce anger that is going to come”).[41] Compare our reconstruction to phrases such as הַתְּשׁוּעָה הָעֲתִידָה לָבֹא (“the salvation that is to come”; Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 1 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:173]) and סֵדֶר פּוּרְעָנוּת הָעֲתִידָה לָבוֹא עֲלֵיהֶם (“the succession of punishment that is to come upon them”; Sifre Num., BeHa‘alotcha §91 [ed. Horovitz, 91]), which are approximate antonyms or synonyms of our reconstruction.

Finally, we have placed עֲלֵיכֶם (alēchem, “upon you”) in brackets, for although this prepositional phrase is not supported by the Greek text of Luke or Matthew, in Hebrew it is common to describe anger as coming upon someone or something. Perhaps the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua thought that translating עֲלֵיכֶם was superfluous.

Mosaic in Bet Guvrin of a woman bearing fruit. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L10 ποιήσατε οὖν καρπὸν ἄξιον (GR). In L10 there is a slight divergence between Matthew and Luke with respect to word order and the use of singular (Matt.) or plural (Luke) forms. With regard to both, Matthew’s version is the more Hebraic, with the adjective following the noun and the singular “worthy fruit” instead of the plural “worthy fruits.” Luke’s changes are both Greek stylistic improvements.[42] Buth and Kvasnica pointed out that the LXX translators often translated פְּרִי (peri, “fruit”), which always occurs in MT in the singular, with plural forms of καρπός (karpos, “fruit”).[43] It is hard to believe that the author of Matthew would have changed “fruits” to “fruit,” which is less acceptable to Greek style, had he read καρπούς (“fruits”) in his source. On the other hand, the author of Luke may have had another reason beyond stylistic concerns for changing “fruit” to “fruits,” namely to prepare for the different kinds of actions the Baptist prescribes in Yohanan the Immerser’s Exhortations (Luke 3:10-14).[44] For all these reasons we have accepted Matthew’s wording in L10 for GR.

עֲשׂוּ פְּרִי רָאוּי (HR). On omitting an equivalent to οὖν (oun, “therefore”) from HR despite the presence of οὖν in GR, see “The Harvest is Plentiful” and “A Flock Among Wolves,” Comment to L44.

On reconstructing ποιεῖν + καρπός (poiein + karpos, “to make” + “fruit”) as עָשָׂה פְּרִי (‘āsāh peri, “make fruit”), see Four Soils parable, Comment to L52.

In Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, L97, we reconstructed ἄξιος (axios) with כְּדַי (kedai), but in that context ἄξιος had the meaning “deserving,” whereas here the meaning of ἄξιος is “qualified for,” “appropriate to” or “suited to.” In Hebrew this meaning is often expressed with the adjective רָאוּי (rā’ūy), as we see in the following examples:

מַצִּילִים מְזוֹן שָׁלוֹשׁ סְעוֹדוֹת הָרָאוּיִ לָאָדָם לָאָדָם וְהָרָאוּיִ לַבְּהֵמָה לַבְּהֵמָה

[If there was a fire on the Sabbath] they may save food for [up to] three meals [for the survivors]: food that is suited [הָרָאוּיִ] for a person for the people, and food that is suited [הָרָאוּיִ] for an animal for the animals. (m. Shab. 16:2)

הַמִּזְבֵּחַ מְקַדֵּשׁ אֶת הָרָאוּיִ לוֹ

The altar sanctifies that which is suited [הָרָאוּיִ] for it. (m. Zev. 9:1)

כָּל שֶׁאֵינוּ רָאוּיִ לַעֲבוֹדָה אֵינוּ חוֹלֵק בַּבָּשָׂר

Any [priest] who is not suited [רָאוּיִ] for the divine service may not share in the meat [of the sacrifices]. (m. Zev. 12:1)

L11 לַתְּשׁוּבָה (HR). On reconstructing μετάνοια (metanoia, “repentance”) with תְּשׁוּבָה (teshūvāh, “repentance”), see Call of Levi, Comment to L68. The preposition -לְ (le, “to,” “for”) is prefixed to תְּשׁוּבָה in accordance with the MH usage illustrated above (Comment to L10) of expressing “suited for” as -רָאוּי לְ. Since in the Greek text μετάνοια is preceded by the definite article, and since we find examples of definite תְּשׁוּבָה in statements such as הַתְּשׁוּבָה מְכַפֶּרֶת עַל עֲבֵירוֹת קַלּוֹת (“Repentance atones for minor transgressions”; m. Yom. 8:8; cf. t. Yom. 4:5, 9), we have made תְּשׁוּבָה definite in HR.

L12 καὶ μὴ ἄρξησθε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς (GR). Luke’s “do not begin to say,” with its ἄρχειν + infinitive construction, which looks like a reflection of the Hebrew construction הִתְחִיל + infinitive,[45] is more Hebraic—and therefore more likely original[46] —than Matthew’s “do not think to say,” which is stylistically better Greek.[47] We have, accordingly, accepted Luke’s wording in L12 for GR.

וְאַל תַּתְחִילוּ לוֹמַר בִּלְבַבְכֶם (HR). On reconstructing ἄρχειν (archein, “to begin”) with הִתְחִיל (hitḥil, “begin”), see Tower Builder and King Going to War, Comment to L8. The choice of הִתְחִיל reflects MH usage (BH would prefer הֵחֵל [hēḥēl, “begin”]), as does the infinitive construct לוֹמַר (lōmar, “to say”). We typically prefer to reconstruct direct speech in a style resembling Mishnaic Hebrew.

On reconstructing λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτῷ (legein en heavtō, “to say in himself”) with אָמַר בְּלֵב/לֵבָב (’āmar belēv/lēvāv, “say in the heart”), see Persistent Widow, Comment to L12. While both לֵב (lēv, “heart”) and לֵבָב (lēvāv, “heart”) were current in Mishnaic Hebrew, we have adopted לֵבָב for HR because in MT the form לִבְּכֶם (libchem, “your [plur.] heart”) is much less common than לְבַבְכֶם (levavchem, “your [plur.] heart”),[48] while in DSS and tannaic sources לִבְּכֶם is unattested. Examples of לְבַבְכֶם, on the other hand, do occur:

יערץ לבבכם מפני פחדו

May your heart [לְבַבְכֶם] tremble from fear of him. (4Q185 1-2 I, 15)[49]

כשהשביע משה את ישראל בערבות מואב אמ′ להם לא על תנאי שבלבבכם אני משביע אתכם אלא על תנאי שבלבי

When Moses made Israel swear in the plains of Moab, he said to them, “I do not make you swear by the conditions that are in your heart [שֶׁבִּלְבַבְכֶם], but by the conditions that are in my heart.” (t. Sot. 7:[3]4; Vienna MS)

שמא יש בלבבכם חלוקת על מי שאמר והיה העולם

Might there be any strife in your heart [בִּלְבַבְכֶם] concerning the One who spoke and the world came into being? (Sifre Deut. §31 [ed. Finkelstein, 53]; cf. Gen. Rab. 98:3 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 3:1252])

Although the reflexive pronoun ἑαυτοῦ (heavtou, “himself”) is third person in form, it was regularly used with second person plural verbs.[50] For example:

קְחוּ לָכֶם תֶּבֶן מֵאֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָאוּ

…take for yourselves straw from wherever you find it! (Exod. 5:11)

συλλέγετε ἑαυτοῖς ἄχυρα ὅθεν ἐὰν εὕρητε

…gather for themselves straw wherever you might find it! (Exod. 5:11)

מִשְׁכוּ וּקְחוּ לָכֶם צֹאן לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתֵיכֶם וְשַׁחֲטוּ הַפָּסַח

Proceed and take for yourselves sheep for your families! And slaughter the Passover [lamb]! (Exod. 12:21)

ἀπελθόντες λάβετε ὑμῖν ἑαυτοῖς πρόβατον κατὰ συγγενείας ὑμῶν καὶ θύσατε τὸ πασχα

Going, take to you for themselves sheep according to your families and sacrifice the Passover [lamb]! (Exod. 12:21)

קְחוּ בְיֶדְכֶם צֵידָה לַדֶּרֶךְ

Take in your hand provision for the road! (Josh. 9:11)

λάβετε ἑαυτοῖς ἐπισιτισμὸν εἰς τὴν ὁδόν

Take for themselves provision for the road! (Josh. 9:11)

Examples such as these demonstrate that we should have no hesitation in reconstructing ἐν ἑαυτοῖς (“in themselves”) with בִּלְבַבְכֶם (“in your heart”).

L13 אָבִינוּ אַבְרָהָם (HR). We considered a variety of ways to reconstruct the Greek sentence πατέρα ἔχομεν τὸν Ἀβραάμ (“A father we have—Abraham”): אָב יֵשׁ לָנוּ אַבְרָהָם (“A father we have—Abraham”); יֵשׁ לָנוּ אָבִינוּ אַבְרָהָם (“We have our father Abraham”); אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ יֵשׁ לָנוּ (“Abraham our father we have”); etc.[51] In the end, however, we concluded that the verb ἔχειν (echein, “to have”) could have been supplied by a Greek translator confronted with the verbless sentence אָבִינוּ אַבְרָהָם (“Our father is Abraham”) in his Hebrew source. The first person plural form of the verb might then have taken the place of the first person plural pronominal suffix attached to אָב (’āv, “father”) in the underlying Hebrew text. We observe that the LXX translators sometimes omitted a possessive pronoun in places where the Hebrew text had אָב + pronominal suffix.[52] An example of this phenomenon is found in the story of Joseph and his brothers:

לֹא יוּכַל הַנַּעַר לַעֲזֹב אֶת אָבִיו וְעָזַב אֶת אָבִיו וָמֵת

The boy is not able to leave his father [אָבִיו], and if he leaves his father [אָבִיו], he will die. (Gen. 44:22)

Οὐ δυνήσεται τὸ παιδίον καταλιπεῖν τὸν πατέρα· ἐὰν δὲ καταλίπῃ τὸν πατέρα, ἀποθανεῖται

The boy is not able to leave the father [τὸν πατέρα]. And if he leaves the father [τὸν πατέρα], he will die. (Gen. 44:22)

On reconstructing πατήρ (patēr, “father”) with אָב (’āv, “father”), see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L10.

The transliteration Ἀβραάμ (Abraam) of the Hebrew name אַבְרָהָם (’avrāhām, “Abraham”) is the form employed in LXX, NT and the writings of Philo. Josephus, who used the spelling Ἀβραάμ on only one occasion (J.W. 5:380), preferred the Hellenized form Ἅβραμος (Habramos), which is really closer to אַבְרָם (’avrām, “Abram”) than to אַבְרָהָם (’avrāhām, “Abraham”), to refer to the biblical patriarch.[53]

The statement “Our father is Abraham!” and the context in which it appears in Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance are strikingly similar to a rabbinic midrash on Psalm 146:

אל תבטחו בנדיבים. לא יבטח אדם במעשה אבותיו, לא יאמר ישמעאל, אברהם אבי יש לי מחלקו והוא מצילני, לא יאמר עשו, יעקב היה צדיק והוא מצילני, ובזכותו אני נמלט, שנאמר אח לא פדה יפדה איש, אין אחיו של אדם פודה אותו, אם אין אדם עושה טוב בעולם הזה לא יבטח במעשה אבותיו, לכך נאמר אל תבטחו בנדיבים, על מה תבטחו, על מעשיכם, שנאמר אם חכמת חכמת לך וגו′, וכה″א נפש עמל עמלה לו, אין אדם אוכל ממעשה אבותיו לעתיד, אלא כל אחד ואחד אוכל משלו, שנאמר כל עמל האדם לפיהו, וכתיב וראיתי כי אין טוב מאשר ישמח האדם במעשיו, אין לאדם חלק אלא בעמלו, וכה″א יגיע כפיך כי תאכל וגו′, לכך נאמר אל תבטחו בנדיבים

Do not rely on princes [Ps. 146:3]. Let no one rely on the deeds of his fathers. Ishmael will not [be able to] say, “Abraham is my father [אַבְרָהָם אָבִי]. I have a share in his portion, and he will deliver me.” Esau will not [be able to] say, “Jacob was a righteous man and he will deliver me, and by his merit I will escape.” For it is said, A brother will by no means redeem a man [Ps. 49:8]. [In other words,] a man’s brother does not redeem him. If a person does not do good [עוֹשֶׂה טוֹב] in this world, let him not rely on the deeds of his fathers, for thus it is said, Do not rely on princes [Ps. 146:3]. On what, then, must you rely? On your own deeds, as it is said, If you are wise, you are wise to yourself [Prov. 9:12], etc. And thus it says, The soul of a laborer labors for him [Prov. 16:26]. A man does not benefit from the deeds of his fathers in the future, rather each and every person benefits from that which is his own, as it is said, All a person’s labor is for his mouth [Eccl. 6:7], and it is written, I have seen that there is nothing better than that a person should rejoice in his deeds [Eccl. 3:22]. A man has no other portion than his own labor, and thus it says, The work of your hands you will eat [Ps. 128:2], etc. Therefore it is said, Do not rely on princes [Ps. 146:3]. (Midrash Tehilim 146:2 [ed. Buber, 3:534])

Abraham as depicted in a synagogue fresco from Dura Europos. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Just as John the Baptist urged his contemporaries not to fool themselves by saying, “Our father is Abraham,” the rabbinic midrash asserts that Ishmael will not be able to say, “Abraham is my father.” Likewise, both John the Baptist and the rabbinic midrash offer similar solutions. According to John, the people must produce good fruit (עוֹשֶׂה פְּרִי טוֹב; L20), that is, deeds indicative of their repentance, while according to the rabbinic midrash, a person must do good (עוֹשֶׂה טוֹב) and rely on his own deeds (מַעֲשִׂים) rather than on the deeds of his ancestors. Neither John’s preaching nor the rabbinic midrash challenges the concept of the merit of the fathers, according to which God redeems Israel on account of his love for the patriarchs.[54] But John the Baptist and the rabbinic midrash provide a counterbalance to this doctrine: God will surely redeem Israel as a whole for the sake of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but individual Israelites who flout his grace and presume upon his covenant faithfulness will not be able to “cash in” on the merits of the fathers. We suspect that John’s demand for repentance and the rabbinic midrash are both based on a Second Temple homily on the inability of the patriarchs to save Israelites whose deeds are not worthy of their esteemed forefathers.[55]

A parallel version of the above-cited midrash provides further insight into John the Baptist’s preaching. This version of the tradition expounds upon the famous saying of Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who is there for me?”:

אם [לא] זכיתי [אני] לעצמי בעולם הזה מי יזכה לי לחיי העולם הבא. אבא אין לי אימא אין לי [אח אין לי]. אברהם אבינו אינו יכול לפדות את ישמאל. אבינו יצחק אינו יכול לפדות את עשו. (ואם) ואפילו [אם] נותנים הם את ממונם אינם יכולים לפדות את עצמם שנאמר ויקר פדיון נפשם. יקרה היא הנפש הזו שכל מי שהוא חוטא בה אין לו תשלומים. אין לי אלא אבות לבנים אחים לאחים. מנין אבינו יצחק אינו יכול לפדות את ישמעאל. אבינו יעקוב אינו יכול לפדות את עשו שנאמר אח לא פדה יפדה איש. וכן הוא אומר כי לכלב חי הוא טוב מן האריה המת איזהו כלב חיי אלו הרשעים שכל הזמן שהן קיימין בעולם הזה הן יכולין לעשות תשובה. מתו אינם יכולין לעשות תשובה. איזהו האריה המת אלו אברהם יצחק ויעקב ושאר הצדיקים הטמונים בעפר:

If I do not acquire merit for myself in this world, who will acquire merit for me for the life of the world to come? I have no father [אַבָּא אֵין לִי]. I have no mother. I have no brother. Abraham our father is not able to redeem Ishmael. Our father Isaac is not able to redeem Esau. For even if they give all their wealth, they are not able to redeem even themselves [cf. Ps. 49:8], as it is said, And costly is the redemption of their soul [Ps. 49:9]. How costly is this soul, that everyone who sins against it has no means of repayment![56] Thus far we have only learned about fathers with respect to their sons. What about brothers with respect to their brothers? Our father Isaac is not able to redeem Ishmael. Neither is our father Jacob able to redeem Esau, as it is said, A brother will by no means redeem a man [Ps. 49:8]. And thus it says, It is better for a live dog than for a dead lion [Eccl. 9:4]. Which is the live dog? These are the wicked, for all the time that they exist in this world they are able to do repentance. The dead are not able to do repentance. Which is the dead lion? These are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the rest of the righteous who are hidden in the dust. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 27 [ed. Schechter, 54])[57]

The resemblance of this version of the tradition to John’s preaching is less pronounced than the midrash on Ps. 146:3, but one key feature that is common to the exposition of Hillel’s saying and to the Baptist’s message, but absent from the midrash on Ps. 146:3, is the theme of repentance. Both John’s preaching and the exposition of Hillel’s saying recommend repentance as a counterpoint to the merits of Abraham. Another point of similarity is the emphasis on capability that occurs in the exposition of Hillel’s saying and John’s preaching. The exposition of Hillel’s saying focuses on what Abraham is unable to do (“Our father Abraham is not able to redeem Ishmael”), whereas John’s preaching focuses on what God is able to do (“God is able to raise up from these stones sons for Abraham”). If this exposition of Hillel’s saying preserves a recollection of Hillel’s own teaching, then we have further grounds for suspecting that both the rabbinic homilies and John’s preaching drew on an earlier Second Temple source.

“Wealth Won’t Save Your Soul,” written and recorded by Hank Williams, Sr.

One theme that occurs in the midrash on Ps. 146:3 and the exposition of Hillel’s saying that does not occur in John the Baptist’s preaching is the argument that—to quote a Hank Williams song—money “won’t save your poor wicked soul.” The exposition of Hillel’s saying makes this point explicitly: “For even if they [i.e., the patriarchs] give all their wealth, they are not able to redeem even themselves.” The theme that money cannot buy redemption is also latently present in the midrash on Ps. 146:3, since the verb that is consistently used in both rabbinic texts for “redeem,” פָּדָה (pādāh), refers to a monetary exchange for the life of a captive, in other words, “ransom.”[94]

Although the monetary theme appears to be absent from John the Baptist’s preaching, it is possible that it was submerged just below the surface. For one thing, in Yohanan the Immerser’s Exhortations, which in Luke forms the continuation of the Baptist’s discourse to the crowds, John the Baptist displays a marked disdain for the ownership of personal property. In addition, we have already had cause to suspect that John’s message about the coming wrath alluded to the greater context of Zeph. 2:2 (see above, Comment to L9), and in that very passage the prophet warns, “Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them on the day of the LORD’s wrath” (Zeph. 1:18). It seems plausible, therefore, that a warning not to rely on one’s wealth was either hidden in the background or submerged just below the surface of John the Baptist’s preaching. Alternatively, the representation of John’s preaching in the Synoptic Gospels might be a significantly abbreviated form of John’s original message, with the result that the theme of wealth was muted nearly to the point of inaudibility.

L14 אֲנִי אוֹמֵר לָכֶם (HR). Although Luke and Matthew both include the conjunctions γάρ (gar, “for”) and ὅτι (hoti, “that,” “because”), thereby indicating that these terms occurred in Anth., we have not attempted to reconstruct them in Hebrew. Neither are necessary for Hebrew syntax.[58] Both probably were supplied by the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua.

L15 יָכוֹל אֵל לְהָקִים מִן הָאֲבָנִים הָאֵלּוּ (HR). On reconstructing δύνασθαι (dūnasthai, “to be able”) with יָכוֹל (yāchōl, “able”), see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L19.

We have chosen to reconstruct ὁ θεός (ho theos, “the God”) as אֵל (’ēl, “God”), which is a particularly common name for God in the sectarian writings among DSS such as the Damascus Document and the Manual of Discipline.[59] We suspect that John the Baptist, whose thought was close to that of the Essenes, would have been more likely to refer to God as אֵל than with a circumlocution such as שָׁמַיִם (shāmayim, “Heaven”), commonly used in Pharisaic-rabbinic circles.

Compare our reconstruction to the following question in the Psalms:

הֲיוּכַל אֵל לַעֲרֹךְ שֻׁלְחָן בַּמִּדְבָּר

Will God be able to set a table in the desert? (Ps. 78:19)

Μὴ δυνήσεται ὁ θεὸς ἑτοιμάσαι τράπεζαν ἐν ἐρήμῳ;

God won’t be able to set a table in a desert, will he? (Ps. 77:19)

In LXX ἐγείρειν (egeirein, “to raise,” “to rise”) occurs more often as the translation of הֵקִים (hēqim, “raise”) than of any other Hebrew verb.[60] References to God (אֵל) raising things up (הֵקִים) are not uncommon in DSS, for instance:

כיא אל הקימכה לשבט

For God raised you to a scepter…. (1QSb [1Q28b] V, 27)

ויזכר אל ברית ראשנים [[ ]] ויקם מאהרן נבונים ומישראל חכמים וישמיעם

And God remembered the covenant of the first ones. [space] And he raised from Aaron understanding persons and from Israel wise persons and he made them listen. (CD A VI, 2-3)

On reconstructing λίθος (lithos, “rock”) with אֶבֶן (’even, “rock”), see Fathers Give Good Gifts, Comment to L5. The phrase מִן הָאֲבָנִים (min hā’avānim, “from the rocks”) is not common in the ancient sources, but a rare example may be found in m. Betz. 4:7.

The demonstrative pronoun אֵלּוּ (’ēlū, “these”) is reflective of Mishnaic style.[61]

L16 בָּנִים לְאַבְרָהָם (HR). In LXX most instances of τέκνον (teknon, “child”) occur as the translation of בֵּן (bēn, “son”).[62] Although the LXX translators more often rendered בֵּן as υἱός (huios, “son”), τέκνον is by no means an unusual translation of בֵּן.[63]

On reconstructing Ἀβραάμ (Abraam, “Abraham”) with אַבְרָהָם (’avrāhām, “Abraham”), see above, Comment to L13.

Many scholars admit that behind the Greek text of John the Baptist’s saying is a Semitic wordplay on the terms for “rocks” and “sons.”[64] Some scholars admit only to a wordplay in Aramaic,[65] others note that the wordplay is possible in both Aramaic and Hebrew,[66] while other scholars consider Hebrew to be the more likely option.[67] Scholars who prefer to think of a wordplay in Aramaic typically point out that the Aramaic term for “sons” is בְּנַיָּא (benayā’), while the Aramaic term for “rocks” is אַבְנַיָּא (’avnayā’), but they unreflectively cite both terms in their definite forms. In context, “sons” should be indefinite (“sons for Abraham,” not “the sons for Abraham”), in contrast to “rocks,” which is definite (“from these rocks,” not “from any rocks”). Thus, as Buth and Pierce have pointed out, the two Aramaic terms that ought to be compared are בְּנִין (benin, “sons”) and אַבְנַיָּא (’avnayā’, “the stones”), which do not really resemble one another, and therefore are not suited for a wordplay.[68] The situation in Hebrew is quite different: הָאֲבָנִים (hā’avānim, “the rocks”) looks and sounds like בָּנִים (bānim, “sons”). Thus, if there was a wordplay in the pre-synoptic Semitic stratum of the tradition, as seems likely, that wordplay was undoubtedly made in Hebrew.

What is the point of saying that from rocks God is able to raise up sons for Abraham? It seems indisputable[69] that John’s reference to bringing forth sons for Abraham from rocks alludes to a passage in Isaiah that states:

שִׁמְעוּ אֵלַי רֹדְפֵי צֶדֶק מְבַקְשֵׁי יי הַבִּיטוּ אֶל צוּר חֻצַּבְתֶּם וְאֶל מַקֶּבֶת בּוֹר נֻקַּרְתֶּם׃ הַבִּיטוּ אֶל אַבְרָהָם אֲבִיכֶם וְאֶל שָׂרָה תְּחוֹלֶלְכֶם כִּי אֶחָד קְרָאתִיו וַאֲבָרְכֵהוּ וְאַרְבֵּהוּ

Listen to me, O pursuers of righteousness, O seekers of the LORD! Look to the rock [צוּר] from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were chiseled. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who birthed you. For he was but a single person when I called him, but I blessed him and multiplied him. (Isa. 51:1-2)

The above verses compare Abraham to a rock and Sarah to a quarry from which Israel was carved. Abraham began as a single individual, but God made his descendants into a great nation. Having formed Israel from the apparently lifeless quarry of Sarah’s womb, God would be able to bring forth sons for Abraham from lifeless rocks once again, should that prove necessary.[70] Therefore, looking to Abraham to save a disobedient and faithless Israelite was useless. Only those who pursued justice and sought the LORD could invoke the name of Abraham.

Note how well the opening of Isa. 51:1, which addresses “pursuers of justice” (רֹדְפֵי צֶדֶק [rodfē tzedeq]) and “seekers of the LORD” (מְבַקְשֵׁי יי [mevaqshē YHVH]), fits with the passage in Zephaniah we have previously mentioned, which summons the people to “seek the LORD” (בַּקְּשׁוּ אֶת יי [baqeshū ’et YHVH]) and to “seek justice” (בַּקְּשׁוּ צֶדֶק [baqeshū tzedeq]; Zeph. 2:3).

Some scholars have noted that the vocabulary John used to describe God’s “raising” sons can also be used of erecting buildings.[71] In particular, we find the verb הֵקִים (hēqim, “raise”) used in the context of building God’s house (either the Tabernacle or the Temple): pillars are “raised” at the entrance (Exod. 40:18; 1 Kgs. 7:21; 2 Chr. 3:17), and likewise Scripture speaks of “raising” the altar (2 Sam. 24:18; 1 Chr. 21:18). Might John the Baptist have been hinting that the sons of Abraham whom God raised up were to be built as living stones into the edifice of the eschatological Temple?[72]

John the Baptist might have picked up such an idea from the Essenes, whom he resembled. According to the Manual of Discipline, the sectarian community was to be established as “a holy house for Israel and the foundation of the Holy of Holies for Aaron” (1QS VIII, 5-6). The Essenes regarded themselves as “the proven wall and the costly cornerstone [cf. Isa. 28:16] whose foundations are not shaken nor moved from their place” (1QS VIII, 7-8), and they believed that their community was “a most holy dwelling for Aaron…for offering a pleasing aroma and a house of perfection and truth for Israel” (1QS VIII, 8-10). In other words, the Essene community portrayed itself as a living Temple that competed with the Temple built of stones in Jerusalem. In contrast to the Essene rejection of, and competition with, the Temple in Jerusalem, John the Baptist spoke of the purification of the threshing floor, a coded way of speaking about the purification of the Temple on the eschatological Day of Atonement. If John somehow conceived of the recipients of his baptism as being living stones who were to be built into the eschatological Temple, their need for purification via baptism becomes that much more comprehensible: only pure stones could be incorporated into the purified Temple.

Temple imagery similar to that which is found in DSS appears in early Christian writings. The author of 1 Peter declared to his readers that “like living stones you are being built into a spiritual house, into a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus the Messiah” (1 Pet. 2:5).[73] As proof of these claims the author of 1 Peter quoted Isa. 28:16 (1 Pet. 2:6), the very same verse alluded to in the Manual of Discipline as proof of the Essene community’s status as a living Temple.

In rabbinic sources we find the “sons of Torah” (i.e., disciples of the Sages) compared to the stones of the altar on the grounds that both make peace between Israel and their Father in heaven (t. Bab. Kam. 7:7; cf. Semaḥot 8:16). Similar to John the Baptist’s saying, the rabbinic tradition appears to play on the similarity of the words אֲבָנִים (avānim, “rocks”) and בָּנִים (bānim, “sons”). One version of this tradition is attributed to the first-century sage Yohanan ben Zakkai (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BaḤodesh chpt. 11 [ed. Lauterbach, 2:352-353]; cf. Sifra, Kedoshim perek 10 [ed. Weiss, 92d]), and we have had cause to suspect that an early version of this tradition stood behind the name “son of peace,” which Jesus gave to those who were receptive to his message (Luke 10:6).[74] In addition to the stones/sons wordplay, did John’s message share in common with these rabbinic traditions the notion that human beings are equivalent to the physical structures of the Temple? While we cannot answer these questions definitively, the evidence suggests that there is more to John the Baptist’s choice of imagery than meets the eye.

L17 ἤδη δὲ ἡ ἀξίνη (GR). The only difference in wording between Luke and Matthew in L17 is Luke’s καί (kai, “and”) following δέ (de, “but”). Since the καί makes for stylistically better Greek, and since the combination δὲ καί occurs with a high frequency in Luke as compared to Matthew and Mark,[75] it is probable that the insertion of καί after δέ is a trait of Lukan redaction.[76] We have therefore accepted Matthew’s wording in L17 for GR.

וּכְבָר הַקּוֹרְדּוֹם (HR). On reconstructing ἤδη (ēdē, “already”) with כְּבָר (kevār, “already”), see Friend in Need, Comment to L11.

Sketch of an adze-axe from Plate XIV in W. M. Flinders Petrie, Tools and Weapons Illustrated by the Egyptian Collection in University College, London (London: Constable, 1917).

In LXX ἀξίνη (axinē, “axe”) serves as the translation either of קַרְדֹּם (qardom, “axe”) or גַּרְזֶן (garzen, “axe”).[77] Since גַּרְזֶן fell out of use in Mishnaic Hebrew, while קוֹרְדּוֹם (qōrdōm), a variant vocalization of קַרְדֹּם,[78] is well attested in rabbinic sources,[79] our reasons for reconstructing ἀξίνη with קוֹרְדּוֹם are straightforward. Identifying exactly what kind of tool is meant by קוֹרְדּוֹם, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. Jastrow offered apparently conflicting definitions for קוֹרְדּוֹם: “spade” and “hatchet.”[80] Certainly digging and wood-splitting are attested uses of the קוֹרְדּוֹם in rabbinic literature. With regard to digging we read:

פֵּיאָה אֵין קוֹצְרִין אוֹתָה בַּמַּגָּלוֹת [[וְ]]אֵין עוֹקְרִין אוֹתָהּ בַּקַּרְדּוּמּוֹת

Peah [i.e., the edge of a field left unharvested for the sake of the poor—DNB and JNT]: They do not harvest it with sickles and they do not uproot it with קַרְדּוּמּוֹת. (m. Peah 4:4)

Thus, some sort of tool for digging in the ground is implied. On the other hand, a wood-cutting tool is implied by the following mishnah:

אֵין מְבַקְּיּעִים עֵצִים מִן הַקּוֹרוֹת וְלֹא מִן הַקּוֹרָה שֶׁנִּישְׁבָּרָה [בְיוֹם טוֹב אֵין] מְבַקְּיעִים וְלֹא בַקָּרְדּוֹם וְלֹא בַמַגָּל וְלֹא בַמְּגֵירָה

They may not split wood from beams or from a broken beam [on a feast day. They may not] split it with a קָרְדּוֹם or a sickle or a saw. (m. Betz. 4:3)

In our search to identify the tool referred to in Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance we learned that the implement called ἀξίνη in Greek is often equated with the Latin term dolabra (var. dolobra),[81] a two-faced tool with blades parallel and perpendicular to the handle, which in English might be referred to as an “adze-axe.” According to White, the primary agricultural use of the dolabra, or adze-axe, was to remove tree stumps and tree roots from the ground to prepare the land for cultivation.[82]

Sketch of an adze-axe from Plate XIV in W. M. Flinders Petrie, Tools and Weapons Illustrated by the Egyptian Collection in University College, London (London: Constable, 1917).

Petrie described the adze-axe as resembling a mattock, which is the term we have used in our dynamic translation.[83] The function of the adze-axe agrees with the descriptions of the קוֹרְדּוֹם in rabbinic sources and is well-suited to the context of Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance, where the Baptist specifies that the tool in question is set at the root of the trees.[84] In other words, John warned that the unfruitful trees would not merely be cut down to a stump, from which they might regenerate (cf. Isa. 11:1), they would be completely uprooted from the ground in which they grew.[85]

Sketch of an adze-axe from Plate XIV in W. M. Flinders Petrie, Tools and Weapons Illustrated by the Egyptian Collection in University College, London (London: Constable, 1917).

L18 לְעִקָּר הָעֵצִים מוּעָד (HR). On reconstructing ῥίζα (hriza, “root”) with עִקָּר (‘iqār, “root”), see Four Soils interpretation, Comment to L43. In LXX most instances of δένδρον (dendron, “tree”) occur as the translation of עֵץ (‘ētz, “tree”),[86] which we have accepted for HR.

Reconstructing κεῖσθαι (keisthai, “to be placed”) is a challenge because, although it is rare in LXX, it occurs as the equivalent of several different words and phrases.[87] One equivalent that seems promising is the root י-ע-ד in the hof‘al stem, which can mean “be placed” or “be appointed.” In MT there are only two examples of י-ע-ד in the hof‘al stem, and one of them was translated with κεῖσθαι in LXX:

וְהִנֵּה שְׁנֵי דּוּדָאֵי תְאֵנִים מוּעָדִים לִפְנֵי הֵיכַל יי

…and behold, two baskets of figs placed [מוּעָדִים] before the LORD’s Temple. (Jer. 24:1)

δύο καλάθους σύκων κειμένους κατὰ πρόσωπον ναοῦ κυρίου

…two baskets of figs set [κειμένους] before the face of the Lord’s Temple. (Jer. 24:1)

In DSS, the participle מוּעָד (mū‘ād, “set,” “appointed”) occurs as a divine passive:

וכול קציך מועד[ים] ל[ — ס]דורים לחפציהם

…and all your times are appointed [מוּעָדִים] for[ — o]rdered for their pleasure. (1QHa V, 25-26)

בתוך לביאים מועדים לבני אשמה אריות שוברי עצם אדירים ושותי דם גבורים

…among lions appointed [מוּעָדִים] for the sons of guilt, lions that break bones of nobles and drink blood of heroes. (1QHa XIII, 6-7)

Note that in the DSS examples מוּעָד is accompanied by the preposition -לְ (le, “to,” “for”), which accords well with the πρός (pros, “to”) in Matt. 3:10 and Luke 3:9. Moreover, מוּעָד conveys an appropriately apocalyptic connotation: God has appointed the implement of judgment for the unfruitful trees.

L19 כָּל עֵץ (HR). Although Luke and Matthew agree to include the conjunction οὖν (oun, “therefore”) in L19, we have omitted it from HR because it strikes us as redundant. It could, of course, be reconstructed as לְפִיכָךְ (lefichāch, “therefore”), as we discussed above in Comment to L10.

On reconstructing πᾶς (pas, “all,” “every”) with כָּל (kol, “all,” “every”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L19.

On reconstructing δένδρον (dendron, “tree”) with עֵץ (‘ētz, “tree”), see above, Comment to L18.

Having used “fruit” as a metaphor for “deeds” in L10, John the Baptist proceeded to use “trees” to symbolize those in his audience who might fail to perform the deeds suited to repentance that he demanded of his listeners.

L20 שֶׁאֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה פְּרִי טוֹב (HR). On reconstructing ποιεῖν + καρπός (poiein + karpos, “to make” + “fruit”) as עָשָׂה פְּרִי (‘āsāh peri, “make fruit”), see above, Comment to L10. On reconstructing καλός (kalos, “beautiful,” “good”) with טוֹב (ṭōv, “good”), see Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl, Comment to L12. The phrase פְּרִי טוֹב (peri ṭōv, “good fruit”) does not occur in MT or tannaic sources, but it should be noted that פְּרִי combined with any adjective is quite rare. We do, however, encounter the phrase פְּרִי טוֹב in DSS, where we read:

ו]יעטר הרים תנו[בה ו]שפך אכל על פניהם ופרי טוב השביע כלנפש]

[And] he crowned mountains with pro[duce and] he poured food on them and with good fruit [וּפְרִי טוֹב] he satiated every soul. (4Q370 1 I, 1)

A section of Trajan’s column (113 C.E.) depicting men using adze-axes to cut down trees. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L21 נֶעֱקָר (HR). In LXX the verb ἐκκόπτειν (ekkoptein, “to cut down,” “to cut off”) occurs most often as the translation of כָּרַת (kārat, “cut”) or הִכָּה (hikāh, “strike”),[88] but there is one example where ἐκκόπτειν is the translation of נָתַשׁ (nātash, “uproot”; Mic. 5:13), a synonym of עָקַר (‘āqar, “uproot”), the verb we have selected for HR. In MT there are only two instances of the verb עָקַר in the sense of “uproot” or “remove” (Zeph. 2:4; Eccl. 3:2). It is not surprising, therefore, that in LXX there are no instances of ἐκκόπτειν as the translation of עָקַר. In post-biblical Hebrew עָקַר became a common verb for “uproot,”[89] and we have already cited an example where the verb עָקַר is used to describe the action performed with a קוֹרְדּוֹם (qōrdōm, “adze-axe”; see above, Comment to L17). Our reconstruction allows for a tight relationship between the “root” of L18 and the “uprooting” of L21.[90]

L22 וּבָאֵשׁ נָתוּן (HR). On reconstructing πῦρ (pūr, “fire”) with אֵשׁ (’ēsh, “fire”), see Darnel Among the Wheat, Comment to L32. In LXX καὶ ἐν πυρί (kai en pūri, “and in fire”), which is very close to καὶ εἰς πῦρ (kai eis pūr, “and into fire”), twice occurs as the translation of וּבָאֵשׁ (ūvā’ēsh, “and in the fire”; 2 Kgdms. 23:7; Zeph. 1:18). On reconstructing βάλλειν (ballein, “throw,” “place”) with נָתַן (nātan, “give”), see Yeshua’s Discourse on Worry, Comment to L40. There we reconstructed εἰς κλείβανον βαλλόμενον (eis kleibanon ballomenon, “into an oven is thrown”) with בַּתַּנּוּר נָתוּן (batanūr nātūn, “is put in the oven”). The image in Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance is similar.

Redaction Analysis

Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance is a DT pericope with such high verbal identity that we can only conclude that the authors of Luke and Matthew copied this story from the same source (Anth.) with minimal editorial intervention.[91]

Luke’s Version[92]

Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance
Luke Anthology
64 [72] Total
to Anth.:
61 Total
Taken Over
in Luke:
to Anth.:
95.31 [84.72] % of Anth.
in Luke:
Click here for details.

The primary locus of Luke’s editorial activity in Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance is at the opening of the pericope, where the author of Luke appears to have paraphrased the description of the crowds’ coming out to John the Baptist for baptism. Beginning with John’s direct speech, however, the author of Luke reproduced Anth.’s wording with great precision. The only deviations he made from Anth.’s wording were 1) the transposition of “fruit” and “worthy” in L10 and changing the singular forms of these words into plurals, and 2) the insertion of καί after δέ in L17 for emphasis. Both changes are stylistic improvements that do not affect the meaning of the pericope.

Matthew’s Version[93]

Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance
Matthew Anthology
76 Total
to Anth.:
66 Total
Taken Over
in Matt.:
to Anth.:
86.84 % of Anth.
in Matt.:
Click here for details.

Like the author of Luke, the author of Matthew mainly adhered to the wording of Anth. in Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance. He made a stylistic improvement in L12 by replacing the verb “begin” with the verb “think,” a change that erased a Hebraism but did not substantially affect the meaning of John’s speech. Less innocuous were the changes the author of Matthew made to the opening of the pericope; by inserting the Sadducees and the Pharisees into the story, the author of Matthew gave the impression that John the Baptist’s venom was aimed mainly at the Jewish leadership, whereas in Anth. John the Baptist called all of his contemporaries to bear the fruit of repentance.

Results of This Research

1. Did John the Baptist’s warning that his audience would be unable to claim Abraham as their father constitute a radical break with Second Temple Judaism? John the Baptist did not, despite his use of the derogatory term “offspring of adders,” deny that the members of his audience were true descendants of Abraham. What he did deny was that this fact would save them from judgment. The Essenes held an extreme version of this view, according to which only the elect in Israel (i.e., the members of their own sect) would enjoy the benefits of the coming redemption. The rest of Israel would be utterly cut off. In rabbinic sources we find the opposite extreme: with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Ahab), every Israelite will have a share in the world to come (m. Sanh. 10:1). The apostle Paul appears to have shared this rabbinic opinion (cf. Rom. 11:26). Other rabbinic sources attest to a more nuanced view: God redeems Israel because of his love for the patriarchs, but an individual Israelite’s participation in the redemption is not a mere function of genetics. In order for an Israelite to benefit from the promises made to Abraham, he or she must imitate the faithful actions of Abraham. Since the entire spectrum of views is attested in ancient Jewish sources, we would be mistaken to conclude that John’s moderate stance on the issue represents a radical break from Second Temple Jewish thought.


In Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance John the Baptist appears to attack a popular misconception that simply by immersing themselves the recipients of John’s baptism could escape the coming wrath. He therefore challenged his audience by confronting them with their internal contradictions. If they had gone through all the trouble to go out to the Jordan River to receive John’s baptism, they presumably believed his warnings about the wrath to come. Why, then, did they not also accept his advice, namely to repent of their evil deeds and imitate the faithfulness of Abraham their father? Only when they had separated themselves from transgression could immersion purify them from sin.

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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] See Robert L. Lindsey, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists,” under the subheading “Lukan Doublets: Narrative Doublets.”
  • [4] See LOY Excursus: Criteria for Distinguishing Type 1 from Type 2 Double Tradition Pericopae.
  • [5] See Burnett Hillman Streeter, “St. Mark’s Knowledge and Use of Q,” in Studies in the Synoptic Problem (ed. W. Sanday; Oxford: Clarendon, 1911), 165-183, esp. 167; Harnack, 40; McNeile, 26; Creed, 51; Montefiore, 2:14; Manson, Sayings, 39; Bultmann, 117; Bundy, 47 §2; Knox, 2:5; Beare, 38; Kilpatrick, 85; Marshall, 137; Schweizer, 48; Davies-Allison, 1:301; Hagner, 1:50; Nolland, Luke, 1:146; Luz, 1:137; Bovon, Luke, 1:122. See also John P. Meier, “John the Baptist in Matthew’s Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 99.3 (1980): 383-405, esp. 389-390.
  • [6] Scholars who regard the reference to Pharisees and Sadducees in Matt. 3:7 as a Matthean insertion include Harnack, 40; Manson, Sayings, 39; Davies-Allison, 1:301; Catchpole, 8; Nolland, Matt., 142; Luz, 1:137.
  • [7] The Sadducees are mentioned in Matt. 3:7; 16:1, 6, 11, 12; 22:23, 34; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27. Three Matthean references to the Sadducees occur in verses unique to Matthew’s Gospel (Matt. 16:11, 12; 22:34).
  • [8] Cf. Meier, “John the Baptist in Matthew’s Gospel,” 389; Davies-Allison, 1:303.
  • [9] See Tomson, If This Be, 275.
  • [10] Cf. Josephus, J.W. 2:411; Life §21, 190-193, in which the (Sadducean) high priests cooperate with the leaders of the Pharisees in an attempt to control the course of the revolt. Tomson noted that “the extreme circumstances of the war against Rome provoked all kinds of unusual coalitions.” See Peter J. Tomson, “‘Jews’ in the Gospel of John as Compared with the Palestinian Talmud, the Synoptics, and Some New Testament Apocrypha,” in Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel (ed. R. Bieringer, D. Pollefeyt and F. Vandecasteele-Vanneuville; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 176-212, esp. 197.
  • [11] On the likelihood that John the Baptist regarded sin as capable of imparting ritual impurity to the sinner, see A Voice Crying, Comment to L35.
  • [12] On repentance as a core Pharisaic-rabbinic theological concept, see Shmuel Safrai, “Oral Tora,” in The Literature of the Sages (ed. Shmuel Safrai; 2 vols.; CRINT II.3; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:35-119, esp. 108-111.
  • [13] Cf. David Flusser, The Spiritual History of the Dead Sea Sect (trans. Carol Glucker; Tel Aviv: MOD Books, 1989), 48.
  • [14] See R. Steven Notley, “The Kingdom of Heaven Forcefully Advances,” in The Interpretation of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Studies in Language and Tradition (ed. Craig A. Evans; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 279-322, esp. 283.
  • [15] Pace Robert L. Webb, John the Baptizer and Prophet: A Socio-Historical Study (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 175-178; Craig A. Evans, “Reconstructing Jesus’ Teaching: Problems and Possibilities,” in Hillel and Jesus: Comparative Studies of Two Major Religious Leaders (ed. James H. Charlesworth and Loren L. Johns; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 397-426, esp. 398-399. Nolland (Matt., 142) noted that John’s opening question (“Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?”) presumes that the addressees really were coming to John for baptism and were not opposed to (or at least aloof from) John’s activity, as Matthew’s version implies. Catchpole (8) argued that since anyone in Israel could claim to have Abraham as their father, John’s polemics are not suited to a specialized audience of Pharisees and Sadducees, but are more properly directed to a general audience, whom John hoped to persuade by his rhetoric.
  • [16] On the redactional use of ἔλεγεν/ἔλεγον in the Gospel of Luke, see Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem,” thesis 7.
  • [17] See Nolland, Matt., 143. There is no Hebrew equivalent behind ἔκγονος (ekgonos, “offspring”) in any of the instances of ἔκγονα ἀσπίδων (“offspring of asps”) in LXX.
  • [18] See David Flusser, “The ‘Book of the Mysteries’ and the High Holy Days Liturgy” (Flusser, JSTP1, 119-139, esp. 132 n. 44). For corrections that ought to be made to this footnote, see Corrections and Emendations to Flusser’s Judaism of the Second Temple Period.
  • [19] The interpretation of this passage is extremely difficult. Working from the hypothesis that the thanksgiving hymn alludes to Isa. 59:5, Rogland proposed that למזורות should be understood as the preposition לְמִן (lemin, “from”) prefixed to the feminine plural passive participle זוּרוֹת (zūrōt, “crushed”). See Max Rogland, “Eggs and Vipers in Isaiah 59 and the Qumran Hodayot,” Revue de Qumran 25.1 (2011): 3-16.
  • [20] On the translation of these difficult verses and their influence on the Thanksgiving Scroll, see Rogland, “Eggs and Vipers in Isaiah 59 and the Qumran Hodayot,” 3-16.
  • [21] As an alternative to יְלִידֵי, Flusser also suggested that γεννήματα (“offspring”) could be reconstructed as תּוֹלְדוֹת (tōledōt, “generations”). See David Flusser, “‘The Scroll of Mysteries’ from Qumran and a Prayer of the High Holy Days,” in his Judaism of the Second Temple Period: Qumran and Apocalypticism (ed. Serge Ruzer; Jerusalem: Magnes, 2002), 101-118, esp. 111-112 n. 44 (in Hebrew). An English translation of this article appears as Flusser, “The ‘Book of the Mysteries’ and the High Holy Days Liturgy” (Flusser, JSTP1, 119-139, esp. 132 n. 44), however Flusser’s alternate reconstruction was omitted from the translation of this footnote. See Corrections and Emendations to Flusser’s Judaism of the Second Temple Period.

    A viper photographed in Israel. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

    If we are correct in identifying an allusion to Isa. 59:5 in the Baptist’s use of the term “offspring of poisonous snakes,” then the suggestion that John the Baptist alluded to Greco-Roman traditions about vipers’ chewing their way through their mother’s wombs, which was put forward by the Church Fathers and recently championed by Keener, seems less plausible. See Craig S. Keener, “‘Brood of Vipers’ (Matthew 3.7; 12.34; 23.33),” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 28.1 (2005): 3-11. While Keener produced sources demonstrating that the legend was well known to Greek and Latin authors, he did not demonstrate that it was familiar to first-century Jews in the land of Israel. Nor did Keener produce any parallels in Second Temple sources in which the charge of parricide was leveled by one Jewish group against their opponents. On allusions to the Greco-Roman legend concerning the birth of vipers in the writings of the Church Fathers, see A. B. Bruce, 82.

  • [22] See H. B. Tristram, The Natural History of the Bible (9th ed.; London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1898), 269; Foerster, “ἔχιδνα,” TDNT, 2:815-816, esp. 815.
  • [23] The plural of צִפְעוֹנִי (“adder”) is attested in MT (Jer. 8:17) and DSS (CD-A V, 14).
  • [24] See A. B. Bruce, 82; McNeile, 27; Marshall, 139; France, Matt., 110. Tuckett pointed out that “in a desert fire, every living thing would be trying to escape,” a fact that tends to weaken the supposed connection between vipers and fleeing the wrath to come. See Christopher M. Tuckett, “John the Baptist in Q,” in his Q and the History of Early Christianity: Studies on Q (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 107-137, esp. 111.
  • [25] Cf., e.g., Plummer, Luke, 89; Meier, Marginal, 2:72 n. 41.
  • [26] So Foerster, “ἔχιδνα,” TDNT, 2:816; Meier, Marginal, 2:72 n. 41; Tuckett, “John the Baptist in Q,” 111 n. 13.
  • [27] Scholars who equate “offspring of poisonous snakes” with “children of the devil” include Lightfoot (2:77), Gill (723) and Manson (Sayings, 40). Cf. J. Green, 175. And see Otto Betz, “Was John the Baptist an Essene?” Bible Review 6.6 (1990): 18-25, esp. 24, where he suggested reconstructing γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν as מַעֲשֵׂי אֶפְעֶה (ma‘asē ’ef‘eh), a phrase that occurs in the Thanksgiving Scroll (1QHa XI, 17), which he rendered as “creatures of the Snake” and which he suggested was equivalent to “Sons of the Devil.” We find little to commend Betz’s reconstruction. Cf. Claudia D. Bergmann, Childbirth as a Metaphor for Crisis: Evidence from the Ancient Near East, the Hebrew Bible, and 1QH XI, 1-18 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 206, where she notes that there is no biblical example of מַעֲשֶׂה in the sense of “creature,” and that it is unlikely that the term conveyed this sense in the Thanksgiving Scroll.
  • [28] Neither did he cite any. See Bovon, Luke, 1:122.
  • [29] See Samuel Tobias Lachs, “Studies in the Semitic Background to the Gospel of Matthew,” Jewish Quarterly Review 67.4 (1977): 195-217, esp. 197-199.
  • [30] See Michael P. Knowles, “Serpents, Scribes, and Pharisees,” Journal of Biblical Literature 133.1 (2014): 165-178.
  • [31] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1413.
  • [32] See Dos Santos, 128.
  • [33] In Gen. 3:11 τίς ἀνήγγειλέν σοι (“Who told you…?”) occurs as the translation of מִי הִגִּיד לְךָ (“Who told you…?”); in 1 Kgdms. 20:10 τίς ἀπαγγελεῖ μοι (“Who will tell me…?”) serves as the translation of מִי יַגִּיד לִי (“Who will tell me…?”); in Isa. 41:26 τίς γὰρ ἀναγγελεῖ (“For who will tell…?”) translates מִי הִגִּיד (“Who told…?”); in Job 21:31 τίς ἀπαγγελεῖ (“Who will tell…?”) occurs as the translation of מִי יַגִּיד (“Who will tell…?); in Job 26:4 τίνι ἀνήγγειλας (“Whom did you tell…?”) serves as the translation of אֶת מִי הִגַּדְתָּ (“Whom did you tell…?”); in Eccl 6:12 τίς ἀπαγγελεῖ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ (“Who will tell a person…?”) translates מִי יַגִּיד לָאָדָם (“Who will tell a person…?”); in Eccl. 8:7 and Eccl. 10:4 τίς ἀναγγελεῖ αὐτῷ (“Who will tell him…?”) is the equivalent of מִי יַגִּיד לוֹ (“Who will tell him…?”).
  • [34] Josephus (Ant. 18:117) may imply that there was a popular misconception that John’s immersion would automatically secure pardon from sins.
  • [35] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1428-1429.
  • [36] See Dos Santos, 130.
  • [37] The only other example we have found of a verse describing “anger” as “coming” is in 2 Chr. 32:26, where וְלֹא בָא עֲלֵיהֶם קֶצֶף יי בִּימֵי יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ (“and the LORD’s wrath [קֶצֶף] did not come [בָא] upon them in the days of Hezekiah”) was rendered in LXX as καὶ οὐκ ἐπῆλθεν ἐπ᾿ αὐτοὺς ὀργὴ κυρίου ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Εζεκιου (“and the anger [ὀργή] of the Lord did not come [ἐπῆλθεν] upon them in the days of Hezekiah”).
  • [38] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1008-1010.
  • [39] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:909. Cf. Sending the Twelve: Commissioning, Comment to L33.
  • [40] Cf. Jastrow, 1129; Segal, 167 §349; Kutscher, 131 §218.
  • [41] We are aware that in MT חֲרוֹן אַף almost always occurs either with a pronominal suffix (e.g., חֲרוֹן אַפּוֹ [“his fierce anger”]) or followed by a noun (e.g., חֲרוֹן אַף יי [“the LORD’s fierce anger”]). However, we see no reason why the definite construct phrase חֲרוֹן הָאַף (“the fierce anger”) should be grammatically impossible. Note that the indefinite phrase חֲרוֹן אַף occurs in Isa. 13:9 and 2 Chr. 28:13. Another possibility is that HR should read חֲרוֹן אַף הֶעָתִיד לָבוֹא, which is grammatically (and conceptually) parallel to the phrase סֵדֶר פּוּרְעָנוּת הָעֲתִידָה לָבוֹא עֲלֵיהֶם (“the succession of punishment that is to come upon them”; Sifre Num., BeHa‘alotcha §91 [ed. Horovitz, 91]). It is likely that John the Baptist intentionally chose a phrase that allowed him to avoid using the divine name.
  • [42] See Harnack, 2; LHNS, 11 §2.
  • [43] See Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica, “Critical Notes on the VTS” (JS1, 259-317, esp. 281).
  • [44] See E. H. Scheffler, “The Social Ethics of the Lucan Baptist (Lk 3:10-14),” Neotestamentica 24.1 (1990): 21-36, esp. 26, 30; Tuckett, “John the Baptist in Q,” 110.
  • [45] On the use of ἄρχειν + infinitive in the Synoptic Gospels, see Buth and Kvasnica, “Critical Notes on the VTS,” (JS1, 261-268).
  • [46] Pace Fitzmyer (1:468) and Bovon (1:122 n. 26).
  • [47] See Moulton, 15; Manson, Sayings, 40; LHNS, 11 §2.
  • [48] See Even-Shoshan, Concordance, 586 (לִבְּכֶם), ‎587-588 (לְבַבְכֶם).
  • [49] Another example of לְבַבְכֶם occurs in 4Q302 3 II, 4.
  • [50] See BDAG, 268-269; Muraoka, Lexicon, 183-184.
  • [51] Cf. the statement in the story of Joseph and his brothers, יֶשׁ לָנוּ אָב זָקֵן (“There is to us an elderly father”; Gen. 44:20), which the LXX translators rendered as ἔστιν ἡμῖν πατὴρ πρεσβύτερος (“There is to us an elderly father”; Gen. 44:20).
  • [52] In LXX אָב + suffix is translated simply as πατήρ (without an accompanying possessive pronoun) in Gen. 20:12; 27:31; 28:7; 44:22 (2xx), 34; Prov. 4:3; 15:5; 19:13; 23:25; 28:7, 24; 30:11; Job 8:8; Isa. 8:4; Jer. 3:4, 19; Ezek. 5:10. This list excludes examples of vocative πάτερ (without an accompanying possessive pronoun), which also regularly occurred as the translation of אָב + pronominal suffix. See Lord’s Prayer, Comment to L10.
  • [53] On Ἅβραμος reflecting the shorter name אַבְרָם, see William Hornbury and David Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 99-100.
  • [54] Pace J. Green, 176.
  • [55] A similar point is made in the Rich Man and Lazar parable, where Abraham is unable to comfort the rich man in Hades (Luke 16:25-26).
  • [56] Perhaps this comment alludes to God’s promise to Abraham that “whoever curses you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3). The implication is that if such a worthy soul as Abraham is unable to redeem himself, how much less chance is there for ordinary sinners to redeem themselves?
  • [57] We owe this reference to R. Menahem, “A Jewish Commentary on the New Testament: A Sample Verse,” Immanuel 21 (1987): 43-54, esp. 47-48.
  • [58] Segal (205 §424) noted that in MH “The use of -שֶׁ to introduce direct narration is rare and doubtful.”
  • [59] In the LXX books of the Pentateuch θεός occurs as the translation of אֵל in Gen. 4:18, 19, 20, 22; 16:13; 17:1; 21:33; 28:3, 19; 31:13 (2xx); 33:20; 35:1, 3, 11; 43:14; 46:3; 48:3; 49:25; Exod. 6:3; 15:2, 11; 20:5; 34:6, 14 (2xx); Num. 12:13; 16:22; 23:19, 22, 23; 24:4, 8, 16, 23; Deut. 3:24; 4:24, 31; 5:9; 6:15; 7:9, 21; 10:17; 32:4, 12, 18, 21; 33:26.
  • [60] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:364. Cf. McNeile, 28.
  • [61] On אֵלּוּ as the MH replacement of BH אֵלֶּה (’ēleh, “these”), see Segal, 41 §72.
  • [62] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1340-1342.
  • [63] See Dos Santos, 27.
  • [64] In this regard Jeremias is one of the few voices of dissent. See Joachim Jeremias, “λίθος,” TDNT, 4:268-280, esp. 268, 271.
  • [65] See Lightfoot, 3:51 (who denies the wordplay); McNeile, 28; Creed, 52; Manson, Sayings, 40; Jeremias, “λίθος,” TDNT, 4:268 (who also denies the wordplay); Nolland, Luke, 1:148.
  • [66] See Hagner, 1:50; France, Matt., 111; Nolland, Matt., 144. See also Jean Carmignac, “Studies in the Hebrew Background of the Synoptic Gospels,” Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute 7 (1970): 64-93, esp. 69.
  • [67] See Plummer, Luke, 90; Albright-Mann, 26; Betz, “Was John the Baptist an Essene?” 24; Buchanan, 1:137; Daniel R. Schwartz, “On the Jewish Background of Christianity,” in Studies in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity: Text and Context (ed. Dan Jaffé; Leiden: Brill, 2010), 87-105, esp. 100; Edwards, Luke, 111.
  • [68] See Randall Buth and Chad Pierce, “Hebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does Ἑβραϊστί Ever Mean ‘Aramaic’?” (JS2, 66-109, esp. 89 n. 63).
  • [69] Pace Bovon, 1:123. Scholars who recognize the allusion to Isa. 51:1-2 include Plummer (Luke, 90); Jeremias (“λίθος,” TDNT, 4:270-271); Menahem Kister, “Plucking on the Sabbath and Christian-Jewish Polemic,” Immanuel 24/25 (1990): 35-51, esp. 35 n. 1.
  • [70] See Nolland, Matt., 145.
  • [71] Cf. McNeile, 28.
  • [72] For a discussion of the “building” symbolism in John the Baptist’s preaching, see David Flusser, “The Isaiah Pesher and the Notion of Twelve Apostles in the Early Church” (Flusser, JSTP1, 305-326, esp. 317, 321).
  • [73] Cf. Eph. 2:19-22.
  • [74] On Jesus’ use of the term “son of peace,” see Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, Comment to L88.
  • [75] See Plummer, Luke, 90; Creed, 52. In Luke δὲ καί occurs 29xx (Luke 2:4; 3:9, 12; 4:41; 5:10, 36; 6:39; 9:61; 10:32; 11:18; 12:54, 57; 14:12, 34; 15:28, 32; 16:1, 22; 18:9; 19:19; 20:11, 12, 31; 21:16; 22:24; 23:32, 35, 38; 24:37), in Mark δὲ καί occurs 2xx (Mark 14:31; 15:40), in Matthew δὲ καί occurs 6xx (Matt. 10:18, 30; 18:17; 24:49; 25:22, 24), and in Acts δὲ καί occurs 19xx (Acts 2:7, 26; 3:1; 5:16; 9:24; 11:7; 12:25; 13:5; 14:27; 15:35; 16:1; 17:18; 19:28, 31; 20:11; 21:16; 22:28; 23:34; 24:9).
  • [76] See Cadbury, Style, 146; Nolland, Luke, 1:148.
  • [77] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:113.
  • [78] See Moshe Bar-Asher, “Mishnaic Hebrew: An Introductory Survey,” in The Literature of the Sages (CRINT II.3; 2 vols.; ed. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz and Peter J. Tomson; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006), 2:567-595, esp. 581.
  • [79] See, e.g., m. Shev. 4:6; m. Shab. 17:2; m. Avot 4:5; m. Kel. 20:3; 29:4, 5, 7 (2xx); m. Par. 12:5.
  • [80] See Jastrow, 1412.
  • [81] On the equation of Greek ἀξίνη with Latin dolabra (var. dolobra), see the Corpus Glossariorum Latinorum (ed. Georg Goetz et al.; 7 vols.; Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1888-1923), 2:54, 231; 3:204, 325; 6:362; 7:460.
  • [82] See K. D. White, Agricultural Implements of the Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 63. White (64) demurred that, properly speaking, the ἀξίνη ought to be identified with the securis, a single-faced tool with a blade perpendicular to the shaft. However, the constant identification of the dolabra with the ἀξίνη suggests that the terms were not always used with exact precision.
  • [83] See W. M. Flinders Petrie, Tools and Weapons Illustrated by the Egyptian Collection in University College, London (London: Constable, 1917), 15.
  • [84] Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, 83.
  • [85] Note that the tool issued to Essene novices, which Josephus referred to by the terms ἀξινάριον (axinarion; J.W. 2:137) and ἀξινίδιον (axinidion; J.W. 2:148)—both diminutive forms of ἀξίνη—was used for digging holes in the ground into which the Essenes could relieve themselves.
  • [86] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:289-290. Elsewhere we have preferred to reconstruct δένδρον (dendron, “tree”) with אִילָן (’ilān, “tree”). See Mustard Seed and Starter Dough, Comment to L18.
  • [87] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:758.
  • [88] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:434.
  • [89] For examples of עָקַר in rabbinic sources, see Darnel Among the Wheat, Comment to L25.
  • [90] Cf. Black, 107.
  • [91] According to our calculations, 78% of Matthew’s wording in Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance is identical to Luke’s, while 94% of Luke’s wording is identical to Matthew’s. See LOY Excursus: Criteria for Distinguishing Type 1 from Type 2 Double Tradition Pericopae.
  • [92]
    Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance
    Luke’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    [ἔλεγεν οὖν τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ὄχλοις βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ] γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς ποιήσατε οὖν ἀξίους καρποὺς τῆς μετανοίας καὶ μὴ ἄρξησθε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς πατέρα ἔχομεν τὸν Ἀβραάμ λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ ἤδη δὲ καὶ ἡ ἀξείνη πρὸς τὴν ῥίζαν τῶν δένδρων κεῖται πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτοὺς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς ποιήσατε οὖν καρπὸν ἄξιον τῆς μετανοίας καὶ μὴ ἄρξησθε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς πατέρα ἔχομεν τὸν Ἀβραάμ λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ ἤδη δὲ ἡ ἀξίνη πρὸς τὴν ῥίζαν τῶν δένδρων κεῖται πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται
    Total Words: 64 [72] Total Words: 68
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 61 Total Words Taken Over in Luke: 61
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 95.31 [84.72]% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Luke: 89.71%

  • [93]
    Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance
    Matthew’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    ἰδὼν δὲ πολλοὺς τῶν Φαρεισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα εἶπεν αὐτοῖς γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς ποιήσατε οὖν καρπὸν ἄξιον τῆς μετανοίας καὶ μὴ δόξητε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς πατέρα ἔχομεν τὸν Ἀβραάμ λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ ἤδη δὲ ἡ ἀξείνη πρὸς τὴν ῥίζαν τῶν δένδρων κεῖται πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτοὺς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς ποιήσατε οὖν καρπὸν ἄξιον τῆς μετανοίας καὶ μὴ ἄρξησθε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς πατέρα ἔχομεν τὸν Ἀβραάμ λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ ἤδη δὲ ἡ ἀξίνη πρὸς τὴν ῥίζαν τῶν δένδρων κεῖται πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται
    Total Words: 76 Total Words: 68
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 66 Total Words Taken Over in Matt: 66
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 86.84% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Matt.: 97.06%

  • [94] On the shift of the meaning of פָּדָה from “redeem” to “ransom” in MH, see David Flusser, “Redemption: In the Talmud,” Encyclopedia Judaica (2d ed.; 22 vols.; ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik; Detroit: Macmillan, 2007), 17:152.
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