Generations That Repented Long Ago

& LOY Commentary 11 Comments

Did Jesus condemn his contemporaries for failing to recognize him as the Messiah or for something more insidious?

Matt. 12:41-42; Luke 11:31-32

(Huck 87, 152; Aland 119, 191; Crook 141, 219)[1]

מַלְכַּת תֵּימָן תָּקוּם בַּדִּין עִם הַדּוֹר הַזֶּה וּתְחַיֵּב אוֹתוֹ שֶׁהִיא בָּאָה מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ לִשְׁמֹעַ אֵת חָכְמַת שְׁלֹמֹה וַהֲרֵי [יֵשׁ] גָּדוֹל מִשְּׁלֹמֹה כָּן אַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵה יָקוּמוּ בַּדִּין עִם הַדּוֹר הַזֶּה וִיחַיְּבוּ אוֹתוֹ שֶׁהֵם עָשׂוּ תְּשׁוּבָה בִּקְרִיאַת יוֹנָה וַהֲרֵי [יֵשׁ] גָּדוֹל מִיּוֹנָה כָּן

“At the final judgment the Queen of Teman will arise to testify against this generation and prove that it has no excuse. She came from the world’s end to listen to King Shlomoh’s wisdom, but a wisdom more profound than Shlomoh’s is right here in front of you, and still you haven’t listened!

“At the final judgment the inhabitants of Nineveh will arise to testify against this generation and prove that it has no excuse. They repented when Yonah proclaimed his message of doom, but a more dire message is being proclaimed to you, and still you haven’t changed your ways![2]

Revised: 2 August 2021

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Reconstruction

To view the reconstructed text of Generations That Repented Long Ago click on the link below:

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“Choose Repentance
or Destruction” complex
Calamities in Yerushalayim

Woes on Three Villages

Generations that Repented Long Ago

Innocent Blood

Sign-Seeking Generation

Days of the Son of Man

Lesson of Lot’s Wife

Saving and Destroying

Indiscriminate Catastrophe

Carrion Birds

“Like Children Complaining”

Story Placement

In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke the pericope we have entitled Generations That Repented Long Ago immediately follows Sign-Seeking Generation. For that reason, many scholars treat Sign-Seeking Generation and Generations That Repented Long Ago as a single unit. Upon closer examination, however, the two clearly emerge as distinct pericopae.[3] Sign-Seeking Generation deals with a quest for a miraculous sign in the present and concerns the enigmatic figure of the Son of Man, whereas Generations That Repented Long Ago portrays a judgment scene in the eschatological future and focuses on the theme of repentance. The reason the two pericopae are adjacent to one another in Matthew and Luke is that these two pericopae were already so joined in their shared source, the Anthology (Anth.). Undoubtedly, the Anthologizer (the author of Anth.) placed these two pericopae side by side because both mention Jonah, the people of Nineveh and “this generation.”

Prior to the Anthologizer’s reorganization of the stories he found in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua, Generations That Repented Long Ago may have followed Woes on Three Villages. In Woes on Three Villages Jesus compared the fates of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum to those of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom. According to Jesus, those three notoriously sinful Gentile cities would have responded to Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven message and its concomitant summons to repentance, whereas these three Jewish villages had not turned away from radical militant ideologies in order to pursue the Kingdom of Heaven in the ways of peace. As a consequence, in the final judgment it would be easier for Tyre, Sidon and Sodom than for Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Generations That Repented Long Ago forms a natural continuation of Jesus’ argument, in which he ups the ante by widening the scope of his condemnation beyond three specific villages to his entire generation and by citing actual examples of Gentile responsiveness as opposed to the merely hypothetical examples mentioned in the woes.

Despite the amplifications we have noted, Generations That Repented Long Ago shares several important features in common with Woes on Three Villages. Both pericopae envision judgment scenes following the resurrection.[4] In both pericopae Israelites of Jesus’ day fare poorly compared to Gentiles of the scriptural past. In both repentance is a (perhaps the) crucial issue. In addition, both pericopae share the same geographical vantage point, with the people Jesus addresses at the center who are contrasted with Gentiles located in the north (Tyre and Sidon in Woes on Three Villages and Nineveh in Generations That Repented Long Ago) and south (Sodom in Woes on Three Villages and the Queen of the South in Generations That Repented Long Ago). There is a unique verbal link between the two passages as well. The phrase ἐν τῇ κρίσει (en tē krisei, “in the judgment”) occurs in Woes on Three Villages (L15, L27) and Generations That Repented Long Ago (L9, L16), but nowhere else in the Synoptic Gospels. These numerous connecting links suggest that Generations That Repented Long Ago once belonged together with Woes on Three Villages in a narrative-sayings complex dealing with repentance and the catastrophic consequences Jesus foresaw if Israel failed to embrace the redemption being offered to them through the Kingdom of Heaven.

Click here for an overview of all the pericopae we believe once belonged to the “Choose Repentance or Destruction” complex. This overview will also demonstrate how we believe these pericopae originally fit together with one another in the Hebrew Life of Yeshua.

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

Conjectured Stages of Transmission

We have already alluded to our supposition that the authors of Luke and Matthew copied Generations That Repented Long Ago from Anth. This supposition is supported by the exceedingly high level of verbal identity that characterizes this pericope.[5] According to Lindsey’s hypothesis, the authors of Luke and Matthew were able to achieve such high levels of verbal identity when both authors relied on the same source, namely Anth.[6]

Crucial Issues

  1. Why did Jesus refer to the Queen of Sheba as the “Queen of the South”?
  2. Why did Jesus make a connection between the Queen of the South and the people of Nineveh?
  3. What is the “something greater” that Jesus alludes to in this pericope?

Comment

L1-7 Whereas the Lukan and Matthean versions of Generations That Repented Long Ago exhibit high levels of verbal identity, the two versions disagree as to the order of the two examples cited in this pericope. Luke’s version mentions the Queen of the South first and the people of Nineveh second, while Matthew’s version opens with the people of Nineveh and concludes with the Queen of the South. We think it is likely that Luke’s version preserves the original order of the two examples,[7] since the author of Luke would have had no reason to rearrange the examples if his source had presented them in Matthew’s order.[8] Luke’s order of the examples is decidedly difficult, since the Queen of the South appears to intrude between Jonah’s serving as a sign to the Ninevites (Luke 11:30) and the response of the Ninevites to Jonah’s preaching (Luke 11:32). On the other hand, the author of Matthew would have had a strong literary motive for reversing the examples if his source had presented them in Luke’s order,[9] for by placing the people of Nineveh first, the author of Matthew was able to minimize the apparent intrusiveness of the Queen of the South.

In reality, the intrusiveness of the Queen of the South is an illusion caused by the Anthologizer’s joining of Sign-Seeking Generation and Generations That Repented Long Ago. The Anthologizer juxtaposed these two pericopae because they both mention Jonah and the Ninevites, but he did not scramble the internal order of the examples in the second pericope in order to create a false literary unity. Anth.’s juxtaposition of Sign-Seeking Generation and Generations That Repented Long Ago fooled the authors of Matthew and Luke (as well as many modern scholars) into treating Sign-Seeking Generation and Generations that Repented Long Ago as a single, unified literary unit.[10]

Having determined that Luke’s order likely reflects that of Anth., we will discuss our reconstruction of Matt. 12:41 (∥ Luke 11:32) in Comments to L15-21. Moreover, given the exceptionally high levels of verbal agreement between the Lukan and Matthean versions of Generations That Repented Long Ago, there is very little doubt regarding the wording of Anth. Therefore, GR will be commented upon only in those few instances where the versions of Luke and Matthew disagree.

The Queen of the South

L8 מַלְכַּת תֵּימָן (HR). The visit the Queen of Sheba paid to King Solomon is described in 1 Kgs. 10:1-13 ∥ 2 Chr. 9:1-12. Neither there nor anywhere else in Jewish literature is the Queen of Sheba referred to as the “Queen of the South,”[11] so this unusual designation for the Queen of Sheba in Generations That Repented Long Ago demands an explanation.[12]

Whereas the historicity of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon is sometimes questioned by scholars,[13] the identification of Sheba with the people of Saba, often referred to as the Sabeans, enjoys broad scholarly consensus.[14] The Sabeans were the most powerful of the peoples located in the southwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula in what is present-day Yemen. In the first century they were famous for the wealth they accumulated by trading frankincense and myrrh and other commodities (cf. Strabo, Geogr. 16:4 §22; Pliny, Nat. 6:32 §154, 161). Their kingdom flourished from the beginning of South Arabian civilization until the third century of the Christian Era.

Jewish knowledge of the whereabouts of the Sabean kingdom may have been somewhat vague in earlier times, but its location must have been as well known among first-century Jews as it was among first-century Greek and Roman writers, since in the year 24 B.C.E. Aelius Gallus, the Roman governor of Egypt, led an unsuccessful military campaign against the Sabeans.[15] Having penetrated as far as the Sabean capital, Marib,[16] the Romans were forced to turn back. King Herod the Great had contributed five hundred soldiers from his bodyguard to this expedition (Strabo, Geogr. 16:4 §23; Jos., Ant. 15:317), so rumors of the failed campaign against the fabled land of Sheba must have circulated among the inhabitants of Herod’s kingdom. Why then did Jesus—precisely at a time when accurate information regarding Sheba’s location ought to have been common knowledge—use such imprecise terminology (“the South”) to refer to Sheba? The answer may be that the imprecision of Jesus’ terminology is an illusion caused by the translation of Generations That Repented Long Ago from Hebrew into Greek.[17]

Scholars have long suggested that behind βασίλισσα νότου (basilissa notou, “Queen of [the] South”) there stood a Semitic phrase. In part, this is because “Queen of the South” is rather strange (and therefore might suggest an error of translation), but the lack of definite articles means that βασίλισσα νότου resembles a Semitic construct phrase.[18]

If βασίλισσα νότου represents a Hebrew phrase, what might that phrase have been? The first term, βασίλισσα (basilissa, “queen”), is easily reconstructed as מַלְכָּה (malkāh, “queen”), since in LXX most instances of βασίλισσα occur as the translation of מַלְכָּה,[19] and likewise the LXX translators rendered nearly every instance of מַלְכָּה as βασίλισσα.[20] The term מַלְכָּה also occurs in early rabbinic sources. For instance, the Mishnah refers to Queen Helena of Adiabene, who resided in Jerusalem during the first century C.E., as הֵילְנֵי הַמַּלְכָּה (hēlenē hamalkāh, “Helene the Queen”; m. Naz. 3:6).

Reconstructing νότος (notos, “south”), on the other hand, poses more of a challenge, since Hebrew has a variety of terms meaning “south,” as the following rabbinic comment notes:

ארצה הנגב שבעה שמות נקראו לו דרום נגב תימן ימין חדר ים וסנינין

Toward the land of הַנֶּגֶב [hanegev, “the south”] [Gen. 20:1]. It [i.e., the south—DNB and JNT] is called by seven names: דָּרוֹם [dārōm], נֶגֶב [negev], תֵּימָן [tēmān],[21] יָמִין [yāmin],[22] חֶדֶר [ḥeder],[23] יָם [yām],[24] and סִינִין [sinin].[25] (Gen. Rab. 52:4 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 2:543])

Some of the terms mentioned in the above-quoted passage (סִינִין, יָם, חֶדֶר) are not really synonyms for “south,” but displays of rabbinic erudition. Two other terms, דָּרוֹם and נֶגֶב, are not really useful for explaining the title “Queen of the South”; דָּרוֹם (dārōm), being the usual word for “south,” is just as vague as νότος (“south”), while נֶגֶב (negev) is too specific, being the name for the semi-arid region in the southern part of the land of Israel. However, the remaining two terms, תֵּימָן (tēmān) and יָמִין (yāmin), do have the potential to explain Jesus’ curious reference to the “Queen of the South.”[26]

The name “Yemen” as it appears in Himyarite inscriptions.

How might מַלְכַּת יָמִין (malkat yāmin) illuminate the Greek term βασίλισσα νότου (“Queen of [the] South”)? The phrase מַלְכַּת יָמִין could be understood as “Queen of the South,”[27] or it might indicate a more specific location, namely “Queen of Yemen.” The difficulty with this solution is that we do not know when the name “Yemen” was first applied to an area in the southwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula. The name “Yemen” occurs in Himyarite inscriptions from the fourth century C.E.,[28] but whether the name already existed in the first century C.E. is unknown.[29]

Some scholars have connected the name “Yemen” to the name Arabia felix,[30] which the Romans gave to the Arabian peninsula and was current in the first century.[31] Arabia felix means “fortunate Arabia” or “happy Arabia.” Could this Roman appellation be an indirect (via translation) attestation to (or even the origin of) the name “Yemen”?

Arabia felix as depicted in an illuminated manuscript of Cosmographia Claudii Ptolomaei Alexandrini (The Cosmography of Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Semitic languages the y-m-n root primarily refers to the right hand. Since the south is to a person’s right when they face the rising sun, the y-m-n root also came to be used to refer to the south. Another meaning of the y-m-n root is “favored” or “fortunate.” This meaning derives from the custom of seating a favored person or honored guest at one’s right hand. This usage of the y-m-n root is attested in Hebrew: the name “Benjamin,” בִּנְיָמִין (binyāmin), literally “son of the right hand,” means “favored son.” According to Restö, it was in the wake of the failed campaign against the Sabeans that the Romans first began to apply the term Arabia felix specifically to Sabean territory. Formerly, Arabia felix had been applied more generally to the Arabian peninsula or more narrowly to the Arabian coast on the Persian Gulf. It was likely this region on the Persian Gulf that the Romans had intended to reach when they set out on the campaign led by Aelius Gallus. Having failed to advance further than the territory controlled by the Sabeans, Roman propagandists claimed success by transferring the name Arabia felix to Saba (Sheba).[32] With the transfer of the name Arabia felix (“fortunate Arabia”) to Saba (Sheba), the name “Yemen” (“favored [land]”) may have emerged. If Jesus referred to the Queen of Sheba as the “Queen of Yemen,” it could be seen as reflecting the updated terminology for the region current in the first century, and might also be understood as a parody of the failed Roman military venture against the Sabeans.[33] All this, however, is highly speculative, and therefore it is advisable to determine whether an alternative reconstruction can provide us with a firmer explanation.

The alternative reconstruction of βασίλισσα νότου (“Queen of [the] South”) is מַלְכַּת תֵּימָן (malkat tēmān).[34] How might this reconstruction illuminate the Greek phrase βασίλισσα νότου? On the one hand, it might convey the very same meaning as מַלְכַּת יָמִין, namely “Queen of Yemen,” since תֵּימָן (tēmān) is the Hebrew name for Yemen. The suggestion that βασίλισσα νότου is equivalent to מַלְכַּת תֵּימָן is an old one, appearing as early as 1813 in the Hebrew translation of Matthew produced by the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews.[35] It also appears in Delitzsch’s translation of Matt. 12:42 and Luke 11:31 and Resch’s reconstruction of Generations That Repented Long Ago.[36] More recently, the reconstruction of βασίλισσα νότου as מַלְכַּת תֵּימָן, understood to mean “Queen of Yemen,” has been defended by Grintz.[37] However, we do not know when the name תֵּימָן began to be used for Yemen.[38] In Biblical Hebrew תֵּימָן refers to a district of Edom.[39]

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba as depicted in an illuminated manuscript (ca. 1430) of Speculum Humanae Salvationis. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Another possibility is that if Jesus referred to the Queen of Sheba as the “Queen of Teman,” this might reflect a submerged midrashic tradition that identified Sheba with Teman. How would the identification of Sheba with Teman be possible? And why would it have been desirable?

To answer the first question, we begin by noting that in his account of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, Josephus described her as ἡ τῶν Αἰγυπτίων καὶ τῆς Αἰθιοπίας βασίλισσα (hē tōn Aigūptiōn kai tēs Aithiopias basilissa, “the queen of the Egyptians and Ethiopia”; Ant. 8:175; cf. Ant. 8:159, 165).[40] Josephus’ claim that the Queen of Sheba ruled Egypt and Ethiopia is surprising, given Sheba’s location in the Arabian peninsula, but scholars have suggested that Josephus’ relocation of Sheba to the African continent is based upon his reading of Isa. 43:3, in which God declares that he has given Egypt (מִצְרַיִם [mitzrayim]; LXX: Αἴγυπτον [Aigūpton]), Cush (כּוּשׁ [kūsh]; LXX: Αἰθιοπίαν [Aithiopian]) and Seba (סְבָא [sevā’]; LXX: Σοήνην [Soēnēn]) in exchange for Israel.[41] In other words, Josephus is thought to have conflated Sheba with Seba and thereby concluded that the Queen of Sheba ruled over Egypt and Ethiopia (i.e., Cush).[42] Conflating Seba (סְבָא) with Sheba (שְׁבָא) would have been facilitated not only by their similar-sounding names, but also by the fact that, apart from Isa. 43:3, in every verse where Seba is mentioned Sheba also occurs (Gen. 10:7; Ps. 72:10; 1 Chr. 1:9). That the LXX translators made no effort to distinguish between Seba and Sheba in Gen. 10:7 (also 1 Chr. 1:9),[43] rendering both as Σαβα (Saba), suggests that the two entities were already being conflated with one another in the third century B.C.E., when the Pentateuch was first translated into Greek.[44]

In order to ascertain whether Josephus’ location of Sheba in Africa has any bearing on Jesus’ saying in Matt. 12:42 ∥ Luke 11:31 it is necessary to look more closely at the pertinent passage in Isaiah:

נָתַתִּי כָפְרְךָ מִצְרַיִם כּוּשׁ וּסְבָא תַּחְתֶּיךָ׃ מֵאֲשֶׁר יָקַרְתָּ בְעֵינַי נִכְבַּדְתָּ וַאֲנִי אֲהַבְתִּיךָ וְאֶתֵּן אָדָם תַּחְתֶּיךָ וּלְאֻמִּים תַּחַת נַפְשֶׁךָ׃ אַל תִּירָא כִּי אִתְּךָ־אָנִי מִמִּזְרָח אָבִיא זַרְעֶךָ וּמִמַּעֲרָב אֲקַבְּצֶךָּ׃ אֹמַר לַצָּפוֹן תֵּנִי וּלְתֵימָן אַל תִּכְלָאִי הָבִיאִי בָנַי מֵרָחוֹק וּבְנוֹתַי מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ

I gave Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, you are honored, and I have loved you, and I will give a human in exchange for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. From the east I will bring your offspring, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, “Give [them to me]!” and to Teman, “Do not withhold [them from me]! Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth!” (Isa. 43:3-6)

Two points suggest that this passage may indeed be pertinent to Jesus’ reference to the Queen of Sheba as the “Queen of the South/Queen of Teman.” First, whereas the three other cardinal directions are mentioned by their usual Hebrew names, the south is not referred to by the unambiguous term דָּרוֹם (dārōm). Instead, Isa. 43:6 refers to the south as תֵּימָן (tēmān). The use of this term might have caught a midrashist’s attention, not only because of its peculiarity, but also because it seems to be a term intended to encompass Egypt, Cush and Seba (thought to be identical with Sheba?), places that cannot be said to be to the east, west or north of Israel. Second, in Isa. 43:6 Teman is directed to bring the LORD’s daughters from the ends of the earth. This command catches our attention because according to Matt. 12:42 ∥ Luke 11:31 the Queen of the South (= Queen of Teman?) is said to have come ἐκ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς (ek tōn peratōn tēs gēs, “from the ends of the earth”; L12). If, like Josephus, Jesus adhered to a tradition that located the Queen of Sheba’s realm in Africa, then referring to her as the Queen of Teman is equivalent to Josephus’ description of the queen as ruler of Egypt and Ethiopia, if on the basis of Isa. 43:3-6 Teman was regarded as an umbrella term for Egypt, Cush (= Ethiopia) and Seba (= Sheba).[45] The strength of this solution is that it is corroborated by another first-century witness (Josephus) and it avoids the likely anachronism of equating תֵּימָן with Yemen.

In summary, the reference to the Queen of Sheba as βασίλισσα νότου (“Queen of [the] South”) in Generations That Repented Long Ago probably reflects a Hebrew undertext that read מַלְכַּת תֵּימָן (“Queen of Teman”), reflecting a midrashic tradition based on Isa. 43:3-6 that located the Queen of Sheba’s realm on the continent of Africa.[46]

L9 תָּקוּם בַּדִּין (HR). On reconstructing ἐγείρειν (egeirein, “to rise”) with קָם (qām, “rise”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L15.

“Rise” in the present context probably has a double meaning.[47] On the one hand, to rise with someone in a judicial context can have the sense of “testify against.”[48] An example of this nuance is found in the Psalms:

כִּי עַד צֶדֶק יָשׁוּב מִשְׁפָּט וְאַחֲרָיו כָּל יִשְׁרֵי לֵב׃ מִי יָקוּם לִי עִם מְרֵעִים מִי יִתְיַצֵּב לִי עִם פֹּעֲלֵי אָוֶן׃

For justice will return to judgment, and all the upright of heart will go after it. Who will rise [יָקוּם] for me against [עִם] evildoers? Who will stand for me against workers of iniquity? (Ps. 94:15-16)

On the other hand, “rise” likely connotes the resurrection. Of necessity the Queen of Sheba must rise from the dead in order to bear testimony against Jesus’ wicked generation on the day of judgment.

On reconstructing ἐν τῇ κρίσει (en tē krisei, “in the judgment”) as בַּדִּין (badin, “in the judgment”), see Woes on Three Villages, Comment to L15. As we noted there, the phrase ἐν τῇ κρίσει occurs exclusively in these two pericopae. Thus, “in the judgment” is a strong verbal bond linking Woes on Three Villages to Generations that Repented Long Ago.

The Queen of Sheba and King Solomon depicted in a stained-glass window. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L10 μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης (GR). There is a slight verbal disagreement in L10 between Matthew’s “with this generation” and Luke’s “with the men of this generation.” It is difficult to decide which of these variants reflects the wording of Anth., since both revert easily to Hebrew. Matthew’s μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης (meta tēs geneas tavtēs, “with this generation”) can be reconstructed in Hebrew as עִם הַדּוֹר הַזֶּה (‘im hadōr hazeh, “with this generation”), while Luke’s μετὰ τῶν ἀνδρῶν τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης (meta tōn andrōn tēs geneas tavtēs, “with the men of this generation”) reverts to Hebrew as עִם אַנְשֵׁי הַדּוֹר הַזֶּה (‘im ’anshē hadōr hazeh, “with the people of this generation”). The phrase אַנְשֵׁי דּוֹר (’anshē dōr, “people of a generation”) is not attested in MT or DSS, but it is common in rabbinic literature, where it usually refers to the people of the generation of the flood (אַנְשֵׁי דּוֹר הַמַּבּוּל [’anshē dōr hamabūl]; cf., e.g., m. Bab. Metz. 4:2). Matthew’s wording might also hint at the generation of the flood, since the phrase “this generation” occurs only once in Scripture,[49] where it appears in God’s description of Noah as צַדִּיק לְפָנַי בַּדּוֹר הַזֶּה (tzadiq lefānai badōr hazeh, “righteous before me in this generation”; Gen. 7:1).

While either variant may go back to Anth., we think it is more likely that Matthew’s version preserves the wording of the pre-synoptic source.[50] First of all, Matthew’s “with this generation” seems more likely given the Lukan-Matthean agreement to write μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης (“with this generation”) in the parallel example pertaining to the Ninevites in L17. Second, in Hebrew the phrases אַנְשֵׁי הַדּוֹר הַזֶּה (“the people of this generation”) and הַדּוֹר הַזֶּה (“this generation”) are synonymous; the gender dynamic that seems to be at play in Luke’s version between the female queen who condemns the men of Jesus’ generation cannot be traced further back than the Greek stage of the tradition. Third, highlighting the role of women (in this case by creating a gender contrast) is a particularly Lukan emphasis. And fourth, the use of ἀνήρ (anēr, “man”) is typical of Lukan compositional style.[51] Given the multiple reasons for doubting the originality of Luke’s “with the men of this generation,” we have adopted Matthew’s wording in L10 for GR.

עִם הַדּוֹר הַזֶּה (HR). On reconstructing μετά (meta, “with”) with עִם (‘im, “with”), see Call of Levi, Comment to L50. As we noted above in Comment to L9, rising “with” someone in a judicial context can have the connotation of testifying “against.”

That a woman should bear testimony in the final judgment is remarkable, given the general view in ancient Jewish sources that women were disqualified from serving as witnesses in legal proceedings (Jos., Ant. 4:219; Sifre Deut. §190 [ed. Finkelstein, 230]). In fact, rabbinic halachah notes several exceptions in which women were allowed to bear witness in court,[52] and a plain reading of the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa I, 10-11) indicates that the Essenes accepted the testimony of women, at least in certain cases.[53] Thus, the Queen of Sheba’s testimony at the final judgment would probably not have seemed unprecedented to Jesus’ audience, but it probably would have been striking for its unconventionality.

In LXX most instances of γενεά (genea, “generation”) occur as the translation of דּוֹר (dōr, “generation”).[54] The LXX translators rendered most instances of דּוֹר as γενεά.[55] As we noted above, the phrase הַדּוֹר הַזֶּה (“this generation”) may be intended to echo the negative assessment of Noah’s generation, which was so evil that it was wiped out in the flood. The implication is that a huge catastrophe was in store for the people of Jesus’ generation because they did not accept his message of peace nor reject violent Jewish nationalism as a means of achieving Israel’s redemption.[56]

L11 καὶ κατακρινεῖ αὐτήν (GR). The difference in pronouns between Matthew (αὐτήν [“it”]) and Luke (αὐτούς [“them”]) is a consequence of the variants discussed above in Comment to L10. Having accepted Matthew’s μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης (“with this generation”) for GR in L10, we are obliged to accept his pronoun αὐτήν (avtēn, “it”) in L11.

וּתְחַיֵּב אוֹתוֹ (HR). In LXX the verb κατακρίνειν (katakrinein, “to condemn”) is extremely rare and occurs only once with a Hebrew equivalent. That single instance is in Esth. 2:1, where κατακρίνειν occurs as the translation of נִגְזַר (nigzar, “be decreed”), which is not suitable for HR. When we encounter Greek verbs in Anth. that are rare in LXX we often find that the best reconstruction is a Mishnaic Hebrew verb that did not exist in Biblical Hebrew. This general observation applies here, where the Mishnaic verb חִיֵּב (ḥiyēv, “declare guilty,” “condemn”) fits admirably and is supported by parallels.[57]

Similar to Generations That Repented Long Ago in that it envisions a final reckoning is the following tradition, in which the rabbinic sages demonstrate that there is no excuse for neglecting the study of Torah:

תנו רבנן עני ועשיר רשע באין לדין לעני אומרים לו מפני מה לא עסקת בתורה אם אומר עני הייתי וטרוד במזונותי אומרים לו כלום עני היית יותר מהלל…. עשיר אומרים לו מפני מה לא עסקת בתורה אם אומר עשיר הייתי וטרוד הייתי בנכסי אומרים לו כלום עשיר היית יותר מרבי אלעזר…. רשע אומרים לו מפני מה לא עסקת בתורה אם אמר נאה הייתי וטרוד ביצרי הייתי אומרים לו כלום נאה היית מיוסף…. נמצא הלל מחייב את העניים רבי אלעזר בן חרסום מחייב את העשירים יוסף מחייב את הרשעים

Our rabbis taught [in a baraita]: The poor, the rich, the wicked will come to the judgment. To the poor they will say, “Why did you not occupy yourself with the Torah?” If he says, “I was poor and anxiously engaged in procuring my sustenance,” they will say to him, “Were you poorer than Hillel?” …They will say to the rich, “Why did you not busy yourself with the Torah?” If he says, “I was rich and anxiously engaged with my wealth,” they will say to him, “Were you richer than Rabbi Eleazar?” ….They will say to the wicked, “Why did you not busy yourself with the Torah?” If he says, “I was good-looking and anxiously engaged with my [evil] inclination,” they will say to him, “Were you better looking than Joseph?” …Thus you find that Hillel condemns [מְחַיֵּיב] the poor, Rabbi Eleazar ben Harsom condemns [מְחַיֵּיב] the rich, and Joseph condemns [מְחַיֵּיב] the wicked. (b. Yom. 35b)[58]

A cartoon caricature of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife by Joseph Kuhn-Régnier. Some of the details in the scene are intentionally anachronistic. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

While much less urgent than the message conveyed in Generations That Repented Long Ago, the condemnation delivered by Hillel, Rabbi Eleazar ben Harsom and Joseph functions similarly to the condemnation delivered by the Queen of Sheba in as much as it is their exemplary behavior that gives the lie to any excuses the guilty parties might make in their own defense. Despite his extreme poverty, Hillel did not allow his impoverishment to get in the way of his studies.[59] Eleazar ben Harsom, in spite of his fabulous riches, did not allow his wealth to impede his progress with the Torah.[60] Joseph, though a young man in his full vigor, resisted the seductions of Potiphar’s beautiful wife.[61] None of these figures will act as the judge in the final judgment, but the record of their deeds is damning testimony for those who fail to live up to the high standards set by Hillel, Eleazar ben Harsom and Joseph. In like manner, the Queen of Sheba will not deliver the verdict against Jesus’ generation at the final judgment. Rather, the account she gives of the quest for wisdom that brought her to Jerusalem from the ends of the earth will leave no excuse for those who ignored Jesus’ wise counsel when it was brought to their own front doors.

A second example of the verb חִיֵּב (“condemn”) occurs in a context parallel to the example of the Men of Nineveh rather than the Queen of the South, but since the Greek verb κατακρίνειν (“to condemn”) occurs in L11 as well as in L18, we will cite it here. In this example the rabbinic sages attempt to explain why Jonah attempted to flee to Tarshish rather than obey God’s command to prophesy against the people of Nineveh:

אמר יונה אלך לי לחוצה לארץ מקום שאין השכינה נגלית שהגוים קרובים לתשובה הן שלא לחייב את ישראל

Jonah said, “I will go outside the land [of Israel], to a place where the Shechinah is not revealed, for the Gentiles are close to repentance, in order that I may not condemn [לְחַיֵּיב] Israel.” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Pisḥa §1 [ed. Lauterbach, 5-6])

Here, too, Jonah does not condemn Israel by acting as the judge, rather he realizes that the Ninevites’ responsiveness to his message will leave Israel with no excuse for its lack of repentance.

L12 שֶׁהִיא בָּאָה מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ (HR). On reconstructing ὅτι (hoti, “that,” “because”) with -שֶׁ (she-, “that,” “because”), see Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, Comment to L31.

On reconstructing ἔρχεσθαι (erchesthai, “to come”) with בָּא (bā’, “come”), see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L8.

There are several possibilities for reconstructing τὰ πέρατα τῆς γῆς (ta perata tēs gēs, “the ends of the earth”). In LXX this phrase occurs as the translation of אַפְסֵי (הָ)אָרֶץ (’afsē []’āretz, “ends of [the] earth”; Ps. 2:8; 21[22]:28; 58[59]:14; 66[67]:8; 97[98]:3), קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ (qetzēh hā’āretz, “end of the earth”; Ps. 45[46]:10; 60[61]:3), קַצְוֵי אֶרֶץ (qatzvē ’eretz, “ends of earth”; Ps. 47[48]:11; 64[65]:6) and מֶחְקְרֵי אָרֶץ (meḥqerē ’āretz, “depths of earth”; Ps. 94[95]:4). Another option for reconstructing “from the ends of the earth” is מִיַּרְכְּתֵי אָרֶץ (miyarketē ’āretz).[62] Given our suspicion that Jesus’ account of the Queen of Sheba was influenced by Isa. 43:3-6 (see above, Comment to L8), we have adopted מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ for HR, as this phrase occurs in Isa. 43:6.

The LXX translators rendered מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ (miqtzēh hā’āretz, “from the end [sing.] of the earth”) in Isa. 43:6 as ἀπ᾿ ἄκρων τῆς γῆς (ap’ akrōn tēs gēs, “from the ends [plur.] of the earth”). Therefore, if “from the ends of the earth” in L12 does allude to Isa. 43:6, this allusion does not depend on the LXX translation of Isa. 43:6. In fact, the precise phrase ἐκ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς, found in Matthew and Luke, never occurs in LXX. This striking example of non-imitation of LXX vocabulary in the Synoptic Gospels is better explained as originating from a direct Greek translation of a Hebrew source (viz., the Hebrew Life of Yeshua) rather than a botched attempt to Septuagintize the account of the words and deeds of Jesus.

According to some Jewish aggadic traditions, Solomon’s empire encompassed the entire known world.[63] The antiquity of this tradition is unknown, but Justin Martyr (mid-second century C.E.) appears to have polemicized against it in his Dialogue with Trypo, where he wrote:

οὔτε μέχρι τῶν περάτων τῆς οἰκουμένης ἐβασίλευσεν

…neither did he [i.e., Solomon—DNB and JNT] reign as far as the ends of the inhabited world. (Dial. §34 [ed. Trollope, 1:72])

Since the scriptural account does not present the Queen of Sheba as a tributary to Solomon, it is possible that Jesus’ reference to the Queen of Sheba’s journey from the ends of the earth is an early witness to the tradition that Solomon’s empire extended to the far reaches of the known world.

L13 לִשְׁמֹעַ אֵת חָכְמַת שְׁלֹמֹה (HR). On reconstructing ἀκούειν (akouein, “to hear”) with שָׁמַע (shāma‘, “hear”), see Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L24-25.

In LXX the noun σοφία (sofia, “wisdom”) usually occurs as the translation of חָכְמָה (ḥochmāh, “wisdom”).[64] Likewise, the LXX translators rendered most instances of חָכְמָה in the Hebrew Bible as σοφία.[65]

On reconstructing Σολομών (Solomōn, “Solomon”) with שְׁלֹמֹה (shelomoh, “Solomon”), see Yeshua’s Discourse on Worry, Comment to L35.

The phrase ἀκοῦσαι τὴν σοφίαν Σολομῶνος (akousai tēn sofian Solomōnos, “to hear the wisdom of Solomon”), which the authors of Luke and Matthew agreed to copy from Anth., occurs once in LXX (3 Kgdms. 5:14), where it is the translation of לִשְׁמֹעַ אֵת חָכְמַת שְׁלֹמֹה (lishmoa‘ ’ēt ḥochmat shelomoh, “to hear the wisdom of Solomon”; 1 Kgs. 5:14 [Eng.: 1 Kgs. 4:34]). Thus, an allusion to this verse is highly probable. Yet this verse is not part of the Queen of Sheba narrative (1 Kgs. 10:1-13) as we might have expected. Rather, the verse appears in a panegyric on Solomon’s wisdom (1 Kgs. 5:9-14 [Eng.: 1 Kgs. 4:29-34]), where we read:

וַיִּתֵּן אֱלֹהִים חָכְמָה לִשְׁלֹמֹה וּתְבוּנָה הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד וְרֹחַב לֵב כַּחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל־שְׂפַת הַיָּם׃ וַתֵּרֶב חָכְמַת שְׁלֹמֹה מֵחָכְמַת כָּל־בְּנֵי־קֶדֶם וּמִכֹּל חָכְמַת מִצְרָיִם׃ וַיֶּחְכַּם מִכָּל־הָאָדָם מֵאֵיתָן הָאֶזְרָחִי וְהֵימָן וְכַלְכֹּל וְדַרְדַּע בְּנֵי מָחוֹל וַיְהִי־שְׁמוֹ בְכָל־הַגּוֹיִם סָבִיב׃ וַיְדַבֵּר שְׁלֹשֶׁת אֲלָפִים מָשָׁל וַיְהִי שִׁירוֹ חֲמִשָּׁה וָאָלֶף׃ וַיְדַבֵּר עַל־הָעֵצִים מִן־הָאֶרֶז אֲשֶׁר בַּלְּבָנוֹן וְעַד הָאֵזוֹב אֲשֶׁר יֹצֵא בַּקִּיר וַיְדַבֵּר עַל־הַבְּהֵמָה וְעַל־הָעוֹף וְעַל־הָרֶמֶשׂ וְעַל־הַדָּגִים׃ וַיָּבֹאוּ מִכָּל־הָעַמִּים לִשְׁמֹעַ אֵת חָכְמַת שְׁלֹמֹה מֵאֵת כָּל־מַלְכֵי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר שָׁמְעוּ אֶת־חָכְמָתוֹ׃

And God gave wisdom to Solomon and very great understanding and expansiveness of heart [i.e., intellect—DNB and JNT] like the sand on the shore of the sea. And Solomon’s wisdom was greater than all the wisdom of the sons of the east or than all the wisdom of Egypt. And he was wiser than any human being, than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman and Chalkol and Darda the sons of Mahol. And his reputation was among all the surrounding Gentiles. And he spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five. And he spoke about the trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that sprouts from a wall. And he spoke about the animals and birds and creeping things and fishes. And [visitors] came from all the peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.

That Jesus should retell the story of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon elaborated with scriptural allusions (Isa. 43:3-6; 1 Kgs. 5:14), but without citing verses from the story of the Queen of Sheba’s visit itself, suggests that Jesus possessed a high level of scriptural literacy.[66]

L14 וַהֲרֵי [יֵשׁ] גָּדוֹל מִשְּׁלֹמֹה כָּן (HR). On reconstructing ἰδού (idou, “Behold!”) with הֲרֵי (ha, “Behold!”), see Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb, Comment to L22.

For HR יֵשׁ (yēsh, “there is”) is not strictly necessary. On the other hand, יֵשׁ would have been perfectly normal in sentences such as those in Generations That Repented Long Ago, as the following examples illustrate:

ויאמר יתרו ברוך יי אמר רבי פפייס בגנות ישראל הכתוב מדבר שהרי יש שם ששים רבוא בני אדם ולא עמד אחד מהם ובירך למקום עד שבא יתרו ובירך למקום שנאמר ויאמר יתרו ברוך יי

And Jethro said, “Blessed is the LORD” [Exod. 18:10]. Rabbi Papyas said, “The Scripture speaks with blame of Israel. For behold, there were present [שֶׁהֲרֵי יֵשׁ שָׁם] six hundred thousand people, but not one of them stopped and blessed the Omnipresent one until Jethro came and blessed the Omnipresent one, as it is said, And Jethro said, ‘Blessed is the LORD.’” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Amalek §3 [ed. Lauterbach, 2:279])

המנכש בשלשה עשר ונתלש הקלח בידו הרי זה שותלו במקום הטינא אבל לא במקום הגריד. הרי יש כאן שלשה עשר וארבעה עשר וחמשה עשר ומקצת היום ככולו

If someone is weeding [a field of grain] on the thirteenth [of Nisan] and a stalk [of grain] is [accidentally] plucked by his hand, this one plants it in a place of moist soil [where it will easily reroot] but not in a place of dry soil. Behold! There is still [הֲרֵי יֵשׁ כָּאן] the [rest of the] thirteenth and the fourteenth and the fifteenth [for it to reroot before the waving of the omer on the sixteenth of Nisan, after which harvesting is permitted], and some of the day is like the whole thing. (y. Hal. 1:1 [4b])

Given our uncertainty, in HR we have placed יֵשׁ within brackets.

We have reconstructed the comparative adjective πλείων (pleiōn, “more,” “greater”) with the phrase גָּדוֹל מִן (gādōl min, “greater than”), since there are no comparative adjectives in Hebrew.[67]

In LXX most instances of ὧδε (hōde, “here”) occur as the translation of פֹּה (poh, “here”) or הֵנָּה (hēnāh, “here”).[68] However, in Mishnaic Hebrew—the style of Hebrew we prefer when reconstructing direct speech—both of these adverbs had become obsolete, having been replaced by כָּאן (kā’n, “here”).[69] According to Segal, texts originating from the land of Israel exhibit the alternate spelling כָּן (kān).[70] Since we believe the Hebrew Life of Yeshua originated from the land of Israel, we have adopted the local spelling of this adverb.

What is the “something greater” that Jesus referred to? A rabbinic story about Moses’ humility is illuminating:

וַיַּקְרֵב משֶׁה וְגוֹ′ רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ אָמַר: יוֹדֵעַ הָיָה משֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ אֶת הַדִּין הַזֶּה אֶלָּא בָּאוּ לִפְנֵי שָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרוֹת תְּחִלָּה. אָמְרוּ: דִּין שֶׁל נְחָלוֹת הוּא, וְאֵין זֶה שֶׁלָּנוּ אֶלָּא שֶׁל גְּדוֹלִים מִמֶּנוּ. בָּאוּ אֵצֶל שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִׁים. רָאוּ שֶׁכִּבְּדוּ אוֹתָן שָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרוֹת, אָמְרוּ שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִׁים: אַף אָנוּ יֵשׁ שָׁם גְדוֹלִים מִמֶּנוּ. וְכֵן לְשָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת, וְכֵן לְשָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים, וְכֵן לְנְּשִׂיאִים. הֵשִׁיבוּ לָהֶם כֻּלָם כָּעִנְיָן הָזֶּה, שֶׁלֹּא רָצוּ לִפְתֹּחַ בָּהּ לִפְנֵי מִי שֶׁגָּדוֹל מֵהֶם. הָלְכוּ לִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר אָמֵר לָהֶם: הֲרֵי משֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ. בָּאוּ אֵלּוּ וָאֵלּוּ לִפְנֵי משֶׁה. רָאָה משֶׁה שֶׁכָּל אֶחַד וְאֶחַד כִּבֵּד אֶת מִי שְׁגָּדוֹל מִמֶּנוּ אָמַר אִם אֹמַר לָהֶם אֶת הַדִּין אֶטֹּל אֶת הַגְּדֻלָּה, אָמַר לָהֶם: אַף אֲנִי יֵשׁ גָּדוֹל מִמֶּנִי. לְפִיכָךְ וַיַּקְרֵב משֶׁה אְת מִשְׁפָּטֶן לִפְנֵי ה

And Moses brought [it] [Num. 27:5]. Resh Lakish said, “This ruling was known to Moses, but they [i.e., the daughters of Zelophehad—DNB and JNT] first came before the rulers of tens. They said, ‘This is a ruling pertaining to inheritance, and it is not within our jurisdiction but in that of greater ones than us.’ They came to the rulers of fifties, who, seeing that the rulers of tens honored them, said, ‘For us, too, there are greater ones than us [יֵשׁ שָׁם גְדוֹלִים מִמֶּנוּ].’ And so it was with rulers of hundreds and rulers of thousands and with the princes. They all answered them in this manner, for they did not want to open the case ahead of someone who was greater than them [מִי שֶׁגָּדוֹל מֵהֶם]. They went before Eleazar, who said to them, ‘There is Moses, our teacher.’ So they all came before Moses. Moses, seeing that each and every one honored the one who was greater than himself, said, ‘If I tell them the ruling, I will be taking the greatness for myself.’ So he said to them, ‘For me, too, there is one greater than me [יֵשׁ גָּדוֹל מִמֶּנִי].’ Therefore [it says,] And Moses brought their case before the LORD [Num. 27:5].” (Num. Rab. 21:12 [ed. Merkin, 10:286])

In this story about Moses the phrase יֵשׁ גָּדוֹל מִן (yēsh gādōl min) means “there is someone greater than….” Like Moses in this story, Jesus may have been pointing to God, who was manifesting himself in the Kingdom of Heaven, when Jesus said, “something greater than Solomon is here.” On the other hand, if Jesus had wanted to be clear that he was referring to a someone (rather than a something), he could have said, מִי שֶׁגָּדוֹל מִשְּׁלֹמֹה כָּן (mi shegādōl mishelomoh kān, “Someone who is greater than Solomon is here”). But such a pronouncement would probably have been represented in Greek as τις ὁ πλείων Σολομῶνος ὧδε (tis ho pleiōn Solomōnos hōde, “Someone who is greater than Solomon is here”). Either Jesus’ statement is intentionally evasive,[71] or he did not intend to refer to someone but to something.

The Queen of Sheba as depicted in a manuscript (ca. 1405) of Bellifortis by Conrad Kyeser. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, the context in which Jesus’ statement appears suggests that we ought to expect some variety of wisdom to be the something greater that was present in Jesus’ generation. The Queen of Sheba did not come from the ends of the earth to see Solomon, but to hear his wisdom. To state that a wisdom greater than Solomon’s was right there for Jesus’ contemporaries to hear is more apropos than to claim that someone (or something) greater than Solomon had presented himself (or herself, or itself) to Jesus’ generation. However, to say, “A wisdom greater than Solomon’s is here” is quite a mouthful in Hebrew: חָכְמָה גְּדֹלָה מֵחָכְמַת שְׁלֹמֹה כָּן (ḥochmāh gedolāh mēḥochmat shelomoh kān).[72] Jesus may have considered גָּדוֹל מִשְּׁלֹמֹה כָּן (“A greater [thing] than Solomon is here”) to be a more concise way of saying the same thing. If Jesus was referring to a wisdom greater than Solomon’s that was available to the members of his generation, then that wisdom was surely that which was articulated in Jesus’ own message of peace and redemption via the Kingdom of Heaven. The ability to proclaim wisdom greater than Solomon’s certainly bespeaks a high self-awareness on the part of Jesus.

The People of Nineveh

L15 אַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵה (HR). The Gospels of Luke and Matthew agree to refer to the people of Nineveh as ἄνδρες Νινευεῖται (andres Nineveitai, “Ninevite men”). This phrase does not occur in LXX, and it is interesting to observe that yet again the authors of Luke and Matthew forfeited an opportunity to imitate LXX vocabulary (cf. Comment to L12.) Nevertheless, ἄνδρες Νινευεῖται is not difficult to reconstruct in Hebrew. The noun ἀνήρ (anēr, “man”) reverts easily to אִישׁ (’ish, “man”),[73] and although Hebrew has no adjective corresponding to “Ninevite,” the construct phrase אַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵה (’anshē ninevēh, “people of Nineveh”) is a close approximation. In fact, the lack of definite articles in the Greek phrase causes ἄνδρες Νινευεῖται to look very much like the translation of the Hebrew construct phrase אַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵה.

The sole instance of the phrase אַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵה in the Hebrew Bible occurs in the book of Jonah in a verse that describes the Ninevites’ response to Jonah’s prophecy:

וַיַּאֲמִינוּ אַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵה בֵּאלֹהִים וַיִּקְרְאוּ צוֹם וַיִּלְבְּשׁוּ שַׂקִּים מִגְּדוֹלָם וְעַד קְטַנָּם

And the people of Nineveh [אַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵה; LXX: οἱ ἄνδρες Νινευη] trusted in God, and they proclaimed a fast, and they dressed in sacking from the greatest of them to the least of them. (Jonah 3:5)

A rabbinic source describing the liturgy for days of fasting also uses the phrase אַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵה (“people of Nineveh”) to bring to mind the Ninevites’ exemplary response to Jonah’s proclamation:

הַזָּקֵן שֶׁבָּהֵן אוֹמֵ′ לִפְנֵיּהֶם דִּבְרֵי כִיבּוּשִׁים אַחֵינוּ לֹּא נֶאֱמַר בְּאַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵוה וַיַּרְא אֱ′ֹהִים אֶת שַׂקָּם וְאֶת תַּעֲנִיתָם אֶלָּא וַיַּרְא אֱ′ֹהִים אֶת מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם כִּי שָׁבוּ מְדַּרְכָּם הָרָעָה

The eldest among them says [these] words of admonition in their presence: “Our brothers! It is not said of the people of Nineveh [בְּאַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵוה], ‘And God saw their sacking and fasting,’ but And God saw their deeds, that they turned from their evil way [Jonah 3:10].” (m. Taan. 2:1)

This rabbinic admonition points out that true repentance consists of abandoning evil actions. Repentance is not merely an inward change of one’s attitudes or convictions; true repentance manifests itself as an empirical change of one’s behavior. Since Jesus would almost certainly have agreed with this more robust conception of repentance, it seems highly improbable that the error for which Jesus called his generation to repent was merely to change its mind regarding his own messianic status.[74] Jesus’ public message did not concern his messiahship (much less his divinity); rather, in his teaching Jesus strenuously opposed violent nationalist extremism,[75] which he was convinced would hurl the Jewish people into a head-on collision with the Roman Empire.[76] Militant Jewish nationalism was the “evil way” Jesus called his compatriots to abandon. He called them to walk instead in the ways of peace in order that redemption might come to Israel via the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, it was not Jesus’ generation’s rejection of his person that so troubled Jesus; it was due to their rejection of God’s offer of redemption that he had been sent to proclaim that his generation would be condemned by the people of Nineveh. The people of Nineveh had forsaken their evil way when Jonah called them to repentance, but when summoned to forsake the evil way of violent nationalist extremism the people of Jesus’ generation had persisted in their disastrous course.

L16 יָקוּמוּ בַּדִּין (HR). To describe the Queen of Sheba’s rising in L9 the authors of Luke and Matthew used the verb ἐγείρειν (egeirein, “to rise”). However, in L16 the two authors agreed to use a different verb, ἀναστῆναι (anastēnai, “to stand up,” “to rise”), to describe the same action with respect to the people of Nineveh. The Lukan-Matthean agreement in L9 and L16 means that the fluctuation in verb choice must go back to Anth., but since ἀναστῆναι, like ἐγείρειν, must be reconstructed with קָם (qām, “stand up,” “rise”),[77] the reason for the fluctuation is difficult to explain. Perhaps by rendering the same Hebrew verb two different ways the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua hoped to bring out the dual senses of “arise” in Generations That Repented Long Ago, namely to take a stand against someone in a judicial proceeding and to rise from the dead, a prerequisite in order for the Queen of the South or the people of Nineveh to bear witness against the people of Jesus’ generation. If so, the passive ἐγερθήσεται (egerthēsetai, “she will be raised up”) in L9 was probably intended to connote resurrection, while the active ἀναστήσονται (anastēsontai, “they will arise”) was probably intended to connote bearing witness.

In Comment to L9 we noted an example in the Psalms where קָם has the sense of “testify in court.” Here we add that the LXX translators rendered this verb with ἀναστῆναι:

Who will rise [MT: יָקוּם; LXX: ἀναστήσεταί] for me against evildoers [i.e., to bear witness against them in a judicial proceeding—DNB and JNT]? (Ps. 94:16)

On reconstructing ἐν τῇ κρίσει (en tē krisei, “in the judgment”) with בַּדִּין (badin, “in the judgment”), see above, Comment to L9.

L17 עִם הַדּוֹר הַזֶּה (HR). On reconstructing μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης (meta tēs geneas tavtēs, “with this generation”) as עִם הַדּוֹר הַזֶּה (‘im hadōr hazeh, “with this generation”), see above, Comment to L10.

L18 וִיחַיְּבוּ אוֹתוֹ (HR). On reconstructing κατακρίνειν (katakrinein, “to condemn”) with חִיֵּב (ḥiyēv, “condemn”), see above, Comment to L11.

L19 שֶׁהֵם עָשׂוּ תְּשׁוּבָה (HR). On reconstructing μετανοεῖν (metanoein, “to repent”) with עָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה (‘āsāh teshūvāh, “do repentance”), see Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, Comment to L36.[78]

A variant of the rabbinic tradition (cited above in Comment to L11) concerning the reasons behind Jonah’s flight to Tarshish when God commanded him to prophesy to Nineveh contains the phrase עָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה:

Illumination depicting Jonah in the belly of the sea monster from the Chludov Psalter (ca. 850 C.E.). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

אמר יונה יודע אני שהגוים קרובים תשובה הן והריני הולך ומתנבא עליהם והם עושין תשובה והקב″ה בא ופורע משונאיהן של ישראל ומה עלי לעשות לברוח

Jonah said, “I know that the Gentiles are close to repentance. And behold, if I go and prophesy concerning them and they repent [עוֹשִׂין תְּשׁוּבָה], then the Holy One, blessed be he, will come and punish the enemies of Israel [i.e., Israel itself—DNB and JNT]![79] So what must I do? I will run away.” (y. Sanh. 11:5 [56b])

Another rabbinic tradition portrays the contrast between Nineveh’s repentance and Israel’s recalcitrance from God’s point of view:

נביא אחד שלחתי לנינוה והחזירה בתשובה, ואילו ישראל בירושלים כמה נביאים שלחתי אליהם

I sent a single prophet to Nineveh, and he caused it to return in repentance. But these Israelites in Jerusalem, how many prophets have I sent to them? (Lam. Rab., Proem 31 [ed. Buber, 34])

L20 בִּקְרִיאַת יוֹנָה (HR). In LXX the noun κήρυγμα (kērūgma, “proclamation”) is extremely rare, but one of its four instances[80] occurs in the book of Jonah, where it is used to denote the message God commanded him to proclaim to the people of Nineveh:

קוּם לֵךְ אֶל נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה וִּקְרָא אֵלֶיהָ אֶת הַקְּרִיאָה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר אֵלֶיךָ

Arise! Go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to her the proclamation [הַקְּרִיאָה] that I speak to you. (Jonah 3:2)

ἀνάστηθι καὶ πορεύθητι εἰς Νινευη τὴν πόλιν τὴν μεγάλην καὶ κήρυξον ἐν αὐτῇ κατὰ τὸ κήρυγμα τὸ ἔμπροσθεν, ὃ ἐγὼ ἐλάλησα πρὸς σέ

Arise and go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim in her according to the aforementioned proclamation [τὸ κήρυγμα] that I told to you. (Jonah 3:2)

The use of κήρυγμα in Generations That Repented Long Ago to describe Jonah’s proclamation can hardly be accidental, and Jonah 3:2 proves that קְרִיאָה (qeri’āh, “proclamation”) is the right choice for HR.

Scholars have noted the oddity of the phrase εἰς τὸ κήρυγμα (eis to kērūgma, “into the proclamation”) and debated its meaning.[81] If our reconstruction of εἰς τὸ κήρυγμα as בִּקְרִיאַת (biqri’at, “in [the] proclamation of”) is correct, the meaning of the underlying Hebrew text is probably “when Jonah proclaimed,” since the grammatical construction -בְּ + qeṭilāh noun was used in MH to express “when,” “while” or “during.”[82]

In LXX the name יוֹנָה (yōnāh, “Jonah”) was rendered as Ιωνα (Iōna) in 4 Kgdms. 14:25, but the LXX translators usually rendered יוֹנָה with the declinable form Ἰωνᾶς (Iōnas),[83] the form that occurs in Generations That Repented Long Ago. Ἰωνᾶς is also the form by which Josephus referred to Jonah (Ant. 9:206, 207, 209).

L21 וַהֲרֵי [יֵשׁ] גָּדוֹל מִיּוֹנָה כָּן (HR). For our reconstruction of καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον X ὧδε (“And behold! Something greater than X is here”), see above, Comment to L14.

On reconstructing Ἰωνᾶς with יוֹנָה, see above, Comment to L20.

On the same analogy as the meaning of “something greater than Solomon is here” discussed above in Comment to L14, “something greater than Jonah is here” may be a shorthand way of saying, “a proclamation greater than the proclamation of Jonah is here.” This interpretation would certainly fit the context by comparing apples to apples: the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s proclamation of doom, therefore the people of Jesus’ generation ought to have responded to an even more urgent proclamation of doom.

Redaction Analysis

The extremely high degree of verbal identity between the Lukan and Matthean versions of Generations That Repented Long Ago proves that neither the author of Luke nor the author of Matthew significantly changed the wording of this pericope as it appeared in their source, Anth.

Luke’s Version[84]

Generations That Repented Long Ago
Luke Anthology
Total
Words:
55 Total
Words:
53
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
52 Total
Words
Taken Over
in Luke:
52
%
Identical
to Anth.:
94.55 % of Anth.
in Luke:
98.11
Click here for details.

The only substantial alteration the author of Luke made to Anth.’s version of Generations That Repented Long Ago was to write “the men of this generation” in L10 instead of “this generation.” This revision of Anth.’s wording also required the author of Luke to change the pronoun in L11 from “it” (with “generation” as the antecedent) to “them” (with “men” as the antecedent). Changing “this generation” to “the men of this generation” allowed the author of Luke to highlight a dynamic that was already latent in the text, namely the abrogation of traditional gender roles in the final judgment, where a woman (and a Gentile woman at that) would give testimony in a judicial proceeding. This change is consistent with the prominence the author of Luke gave to women in his Gospel and in Acts.

Matthew’s Version[85]

Generations That Repented Long Ago
Matthew Anthology
Total
Words:
53 Total
Words:
53
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
53 Total
Words
Taken Over
in Matt.:
53
%
Identical
to Anth.:
100.00 % of Anth.
in Matt.:
100.00
Click here for details.

The author of Matthew did not alter Anth.’s wording of Generations That Repented Long Ago at all. However, by changing the order of the two examples, placing the Men of Nineveh ahead of the Queen of the South, he was able to seamlessly fuse Generations That Repented Long Ago with Sign-Seeking Generation, the pericope that precedes it. This fusion of Sign-Seeking Generation and Generations That Repented Long Ago was so successful that many scholars continue to regard these two pericopae as a single literary unit.

Results of This Research

1. Why does Jesus refer to the Queen of Sheba as the “Queen of the South”? It is probable that “Queen of the South” is an overly literal Greek translation of the Hebrew term “Queen of Teman.” In Hebrew תֵּימָן (tēmān) is one of several words for “south,” but some readers of Isa. 43:3-6 appear to have understood “Teman” as a proper noun used as a geographical term that encompassed certain regions in Africa (namely Egypt, Cush [= Ethiopia] and Seba). These readers also appear to have assumed that Seba and Sheba were one and the same. Josephus appears to have relied on this interpretation of Isa. 43:3-6 when he claimed that the Queen of Sheba ruled over Egypt and Ethiopia, and Jesus’ designation of the Queen of Sheba as the Queen of Teman appears to be another, slightly earlier, iteration of the same interpretation.

2. Why did Jesus make a connection between the Queen of the South and the people of Nineveh? The reason for connecting the Queen of the South with the people of Nineveh is not readily apparent. The Queen of Sheba is not an example of repentance but of wisdom. Her quest for wisdom was in itself an example of wise behavior. Perhaps Jesus chose to include her in order to introduce the wisdom motif that would surface later in his discourse. It is also possible that the story of the Queen of Sheba was already associated with the story of Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh prior to Jesus because both stories mention far-flung places. The Queen of Sheba came from the remote south, whereas Jonah attempted to flee from God by sailing to Tarshish in the distant west. Both Sheba and Tarshish are mentioned in Ps. 72:10 and Ezek. 38:13 as places on the world’s edge. If these two stories had already been associated with one another prior to Jesus, then mentioning the Queen of Sheba and the people of Nineveh together would simply be a reflection of a pre-existing aggadic tradition.

3. What is the “something greater” that Jesus alludes to in this pericope? Many readers suppose that when Jesus declared that “something greater than Solomon and Jonah is here” Jesus was referring to himself,[86] and so would prefer the translation “someone greater than Solomon and Jonah is here.”[87] However, this interpretation is not consistent with Jesus’ overall style.[88] Jesus abhorred personality cults, and rather than seeking to be the center of attention, he was constantly redirecting his hearers’ thoughts to the Kingdom of Heaven, so perhaps it was to the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus alluded with the words “something greater is here.”[89] Others, noting that the Kingdom of Heaven is not mentioned in Generations That Repented Long Ago but sensing the urgency of Jesus’ pronouncement, have suggested that the “something greater” refers to the imminent eschatological crisis.[90] Our more mundane approach has been to suggest that “something greater than Solomon” and “something greater than Jonah” were simply concise ways of saying that Jesus’ generation was being confronted with a wisdom more profound than Solomon’s and a proclamation more dire than Jonah’s.[91] Of course, it was primarily Jesus who proclaimed this deeper wisdom and more urgent warning, so the saying is certainly expressive of Jesus’ high self-awareness. Nevertheless, the distinction is important: it was the message, not the messenger, that was crucial. Others, like John the Baptist before him and his own apostles contemporaneous with him, proclaimed the need for repentance. Whether it was to John or to the apostles or to Jesus that they responded was inconsequential; what mattered to Jesus was that the members of his generation should listen to wise counsel and repent of the evil that threatened to swallow Israel whole.

Conclusion

Generations That Repented Long Ago belongs to a cluster of sayings in which Jesus called his contemporaries to repentance, warning that many Gentiles would fare better in the final judgment than would the members of his own generation. In Woes on Three Villages Jesus cited Gentile cities that would have repented had they been given the opportunity granted to the towns where Jesus taught. In Generations That Repented Long Ago Jesus upped the ante by moving from hypotheticals to actual cases of Gentiles of the scriptural past who responded to the divine revelation in Solomon’s wisdom and Jonah’s prophetic activity.


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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] Scholars who have noted that Generations That Repented Long Ago and Sign-Seeking Generation were originally distinct units include McNeile (182), Bultmann (112), Bundy (215 §126), Beare (103 §87), Davies-Allison (2:351), Kloppenborg (128), Catchpole (52, 244) and Luz (2:215). Cf. Nolland, Luke, 2:651. See also Gerd Theissen, “Israel and the Nations: Palestine-Centered Cultural Perspectives in the Sayings of Jesus” (Theissen, Gospels, 43-59, esp. 44). For a recent discussion, see Kim Huat Tan, “The Queen of Sheba and the Jesus Traditions,” in Jesus and the Scriptures: Problems, Passages and Patterns (ed. Tobias Hägerland; London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 48-68, esp. 49-52.
  • [4] See John P. Meier, “The Debate on the Resurrection of the Dead: An Incident from the Ministry of the Historical Jesus?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 77 (2000): 3-24, esp. 17-19.
  • [5] Approximately 98% of Matthew’s wording in Generations That Repented Long Ago is identical to the wording of Luke’s parallel, and approximately 95% of Luke’s wording in Generations That Repented Long Ago is identical to the wording of Matthew’s parallel. See LOY Excursus: Criteria for Distinguishing Type 1 from Type 2 Double Tradition Pericopae.
  • [6] Lindsey attributed low levels of verbal identity in Double Tradition (DT) pericopae to Luke’s use of the First Reconstruction (FR) parallel to Matthew’s use of Anth. Redactional activity on the part of the author of Luke or (more often) the author of Matthew (or both) could also lower verbal identity in DT pericopae. Therefore, a relatively low level of verbal identity in a given DT pericope is not a foolproof indicator that the author of Luke depended on FR. Nevertheless, Luke’s verbal identity with Matthew is a fairly reliable indicator of which of his two sources the author of Luke used for a given pericope.
  • [7] Scholars who regard Luke’s order of the examples (Queen of the South→Men of Nineveh) as original include McNeile (182), Bultmann (112), Manson (Sayings, 91), Knox (2:65), Marshall (486), Gundry (Matt., 245-246), Davies-Allison (2:357), Catchpole (52), Luz (2:214) and Wolter (2:112).
  • [8] The fact that Luke’s order (Queen of the South→Men of Nineveh) coincides with the historical sequence of events (Solomon lived long before Jonah) has been cited as evidence both for and against the originality of Luke’s order. According to some scholars, the historical order of the examples in Luke’s version is natural, whereas Matthew’s unhistorical sequence must be secondary. According to other scholars, Luke the historian would have wanted to rearrange the examples in order to make them agree with the historical sequence.

    In our view, the argument from historical sequence is indecisive. On the one hand, we find that historical sequence did not bother the rabbinic sages who mentioned the prayers of Jonah ahead of the prayers of Solomon in their liturgy for fasting (m. Taan. 2:4). On the other hand, there is no reason why the fact that the Queen of the South lived prior to the Ninevites who heard Jonah’s preaching should have any bearing on the order of events on the Day of Judgment. Perhaps the judgment begins with the most recent generations and works backwards to Adam and Eve.

    What is decisive is the literary context in which the examples of the Queen of the South and the Men of Nineveh appear. Matthew’s order of the examples is a vast literary improvement in as much as it firmly cements Sign-Seeking Generation and Generations That Lived Long Ago together. This Matthean improvement was so successful that to the present day many scholars continue to regard these two originally independent pericopae as a single unit. On the other hand, the author of Luke was hardly so pedantic as to destroy the literary unity of these two pericopae in order to adopt a forced historical sequence for eschatological events.
  • [9] Pace Schweizer, 291; Nolland, Luke, 2:650-651.
  • [10] On the basis of the absence of Luke 11:32 (Men of Nineveh) in Codex Bezae, Harnack (23-24) supposed that the original text of Luke’s Gospel omitted the example of the Men of Nineveh from Generations That Repented Long Ago. According to Harnack, a later Christian scribe reinserted Men of Nineveh into Luke’s version of Generations That Repented Long Ago following the example of the Queen of the South. Flusser later accepted Harnack’s hypothesis. See David Flusser, “Jesus and the Sign of the Son of Man” (Flusser, JOC, 526-534, esp. 526 n. 1). However, Harnack’s theory does not explain why a scribe who was observant enough to realize that the example of the Men of Nineveh was missing from Luke’s version of Generations That Repented Long Ago, and sufficiently troubled by its omission to reinsert it, would nevertheless be so careless as to insert it at the wrong place.

    To the further detriment to Harnack’s thesis is the fact that the scribe who produced Codex Bezae clearly tampered with Luke’s version of Sign-Seeking Generation, and therefore Bezae’s version of Generations That Repented Long Ago in Luke is also suspect. The Bezae scribe replaced Luke’s original identification of the sign of Jonah as his preaching to the Ninevites (Luke 11:30) with Matthew’s secondary identification of the sign of Jonah as the prophet’s passage of three days and nights in the belly of the fish (Matt. 12:40). Rice has suggested that the Bezae scribe tendentiously altered Luke’s versions of Sign-Seeking Generation and Generations That Repented Long Ago (as well as the saying about Sodom in Conduct in Town and Woes on Three Villages) in order to eliminate the suggestion that Jews and Gentiles will stand together in the final judgment. See George E. Rice, The Alteration of Luke’s Tradition by the Textual Variants in Codex Bezae (Ph. D. dissertation, Case Western Reserve University, 1974), 167-173. In any case, no firm conclusions regarding Generations That Repented Long Ago should be drawn on the basis of Codex Bezae.
  • [11] Davies-Allison (2:359) and Nolland (Matt., 512 n. 111) note that the Testament of Solomon refers to the queen who visited Solomon as ἡ Σάβα βασίλισσα Νότου (hē Saba basilissa Notou, “Saba, the Queen of the South”; T. Sol. 19:3; cf. 21:1), but the Testament of Solomon is a Christian work indebted to the New Testament Gospels. The fact that T. Sol. 21:2 reports that Saba, the Queen of the South (a woman and a Gentile!), entered the Holy of Holies and viewed the ark of the covenant is but one glaring example of the thoroughly non-Jewish character of this pseudepigraphon.
  • [12] On Jesus’ reference to the Queen of Sheba as the “Queen of the South,” see David N. Bivin, “The Queen of Teman.”
  • [13] For doubts as to the historical veracity of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, see Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition (New York: Free Press, 2006), 167-171. For scholars who detect a historical kernel to the story, see William Fox Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (5th ed.; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, [1942] 1968), 134-135; Cyrus H. Gordon, The World of the Old Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1958), 187; John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959), 194-195; Edward Ullendorff, “The Queen of Sheba,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 45.2 (1963): 486-504, esp. 488. Pritchard believed a final verdict on the historicity of the Queen of Sheba’s visit is impossible. See James B. Pritchard, ed., Solomon & Sheba (London: Phaidon, 1974), 148-149.
  • [14] On identifying scriptural Sheba with the people and territory of Saba (or the Sabeans) in the southwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula (in the region of present-day Yemen), see Bright, A History of Israel, 194-195; Gus W. van Beek, “The Land of Sheba,” in Solomon & Sheba, 40-63, esp. 41; Christian Robin, “Saba’ and the Sabeans,” in Queen of Sheba: Treasures From Ancient Yemen (ed. St John Simpson; London: British Museum Press, 2002), 51-58, 208, esp. 58; G. W. Bowersock, The Throne of Adulis: Red Sea Wars on the Eve of Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 82. Cf. Plummer, Luke, 307.
  • [15] On the Roman incursion into the kingdom of the Sabeans, see G. W. Bowersock, Roman Arabia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983), 46-49.
  • [16] In his autobiographical text, Res Gestae Divi Augusti, Caesar Augustus claimed:

    My army advanced into Arabia as far as the territory of the Sabaei [i.e., the Sabeans—DNB and JNT] to the town of Mariba. (Res Gestae 26:5 [ed. Cooley, 91])

    Text and translation according to Alison E. Cooley, Res Gestae Divi Augusti: Text, Translation, and Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Cf. Pliny, Nat. 6:32 §160.

  • [17] The reading of Matt. 12:42 in the medieval Hebrew version of Matthew’s Gospel preserved in Shem Tov’s Even Bohan is extremely telling. According to Howard’s critical edition, Shem Tov’s text reads מלכת שבא (“Queen of Sheba” [ed. Howard, 58]). Since no Greek translator would have rendered מלכת שבא as βασίλισσα νότου (“Queen of [the] South”)—each of the eight scriptural instances of the phrase מַלְכַּת שְׁבָא (malkat shevā’, “Queen of Sheba”; 1 Kgs. 10:1, 4, 10, 13; 2 Chr. 9:1, 3, 9, 12) were rendered as βασίλισσα Σαβα (basilissa Saba, “Queen of Saba”) in LXX—it is obvious that Shem Tov’s Hebrew version of Matthew is a translation and interpretation of a Greek (or Latin) text of the Gospel of Matthew. In other words, Shem Tov’s Hebrew version of Matthew is not the lost Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, nor is it the ancient source upon which the canonical Gospels are based. For further refutation of the hypothesis that Shem Tov’s Hebrew version of Matthew is none other than the lost Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, see the JP FAQ “Has a Hebrew Gospel Been Found?” under the Comments section.
  • [18] See Black, 68.
  • [19] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:214.
  • [20] See Dos Santos, 113. Of the few queens mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Queen of Sheba is the first. Other queens mentioned in the Hebrew Bible include Queen Vashti, Queen Esther and the “Queen of Heaven,” a pagan deity mentioned in Jeremiah.
  • [21] Instances where תֵּימָן means “south” are found in Isa. 43:6; Song 4:16.
  • [22] An example of יָמִין used to mean “south” is found in Ps. 89:13.
  • [23] The rabbinic sages took חֶדֶר in Job 37:9 to be a synonym for “south.”
  • [24] In Ps. 107:3 יָם (yām, “sea”) is paired with צָפוֹן (tzāfōn, “north”).
  • [25] In Isa. 49:12 אֶרֶץ סִינִים (’eretz sinim, “land of the Sinim”) is contrasted with צָפוֹן (“north”).
  • [26] Ullendorff mentioned מַלְכַּת יָמִין and מַלְכַּת תֵּימָן as the two probable Semitic phrases that stand behind βασίλισσα νότου in Matt. 12:42 ∥ Luke 11:31. See Edward Ullendorff, “The Queen of Sheba in Ethiopian Tradition,” in Solomon & Sheba, 104-114, esp. 114. In earlier publications Ullendorff had suggested that מַלְכַּת שְׁבָא (malkat shevā’, “Queen of Sheba”) might stand behind the phrase βασίλισσα νότου (“Queen of the South”). See Edward Ullendorff, “Candace (Acts VIII. 27) and the Queen of Sheba,” New Testament Studies 2.1 (1955): 53-56, esp. 54 n. 1; idem, Ethiopia and the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), 9 n. 9. Evidently, Ullendorff’s revised opinion was prompted by the realization that no Greek translator would have rendered מַלְכַּת שְׁבָא as βασίλισσα νότου.
  • [27] However, there is some evidence to suggest that in Mishnaic Hebrew יָמִין no longer conveyed the meaning “south.” The LXX translators rendered יָמִין in Ps. 89:13 (where it had the meaning “south,” being coupled with צָפוֹן [tzāfōn, “north”]) as θαλάσσας (thalassas, “seas”), as though the Hebrew text read יַמִּים (yamim, “seas”). Jastrow (580) did not include the meaning “south” in his entry for יָמִין.
  • [28] The kingdom of Himyar was the successor to the Sabean kingdom.
  • [29] Wellhausen suggested that the designation of the Queen of Sheba as the “Queen of the South” in Matt. 12:42 ∥ Luke 11:31 could be the earliest attestation of the tradition that located the Queen of Sheba in Yemen. See Julius Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Matthaei (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1904), 65. Cf. Luz (2:220 n. 64).
  • [30] Arabia felix is the more familiar term (cf. Pliny, Nat. 5:21 §87; 12:30 §51), although the Greek appellation Ἀραβία εὐδαίμων (Arabia evdaimōn, “fortunate Arabia”) and its Latin form Arabia eudaemon are found in Augustus’ Res Gestae (26:5 [ed. Cooley, 90-91]). See also Strabo, Geogr. 16:2 §1, 20; 3 §1, 6; 4 §21, 25; Pliny, Nat. 6:31 §138.
  • [31] See Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1971), 837; Fabrizio A. Pennacchietti, “Legends of the Queen of Sheba,” in Queen of Sheba: Treasures From Ancient Yemen, 31-38, 208, esp. 33.
  • [32] See Jan Restö, “When did Yemen become Arabia felix?” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 33 (2003): 229-235.
  • [33] The Sabeans were indeed fortunate to have withstood a Roman invasion.
  • [34] The LXX translators rendered תֵּימָן as νότος in Exod. 26:35; Ezek. 47:19; Zech. 6:6; Job. 9:9; 39:26; Song 4:16.
  • [35] See Berit Hadashah al pi Meshiah (London: London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, 1813).
  • [36] See Resch, 80.
  • [37] See Jehoshua M. Grintz, “Hebrew as the Spoken and Written Language in the Last Days of the Second Temple,” Journal of Biblical Literature 79 (1960): 32-47, esp. 39.
  • [38] Klein assigned the use of תֵּימָן as a name for Yemen to “New Hebrew.” See Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary Of The Hebrew Language For Readers of English (Jerusalem: Carta, 1987), 700.
  • [39] See Ernst Axel Knauf, “Teman,” ABD, 6:347-348.
  • [40] The Greek term Αἰθιοπία (Aithiopia) was applied to regions south of Egypt including, but not limited to, Nubia and Abyssinia. See Ullendorff, “Candace (Acts VIII. 27) and the Queen of Sheba,” 53.
  • [41] Fitzmyer (2:936) and Wolter (2:114) indicate that Isa. 43:3 may be behind Josephus’ identification of the Queen of Sheba as the ruler of Egypt and Ethiopia. See also Marcus’ note in the Loeb translation of Josephus at Ant. 8:165.
  • [42] Note that the conflation of Sheba with Seba is not encouraged by the LXX translation of Isa. 43:3. This may be an indication that Josephus was informed by a Hebrew midrashic tradition rather than by his dependence on LXX.
  • [43] In Ps. 71:10 the LXX translators rendered שְׁבָא (shevā’, “Sheba”) as Ἀράβων (Arabōn, “Arabian”), clearly distinguishing it from סְבָא (sevā’, “Seba”), which they rendered as Σαβα (Saba), and at the same time demonstrating that they knew full well where Sheba was really located.
  • [44] On the dates of LXX’s translation, see Emanuel Tov, “The Septuagint,” in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (ed. Martin J. Mulder and Harry Sysling; CRINT II.1; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 161-188, esp. 162.
  • [45] Perhaps Jer. 49:7, which asks, הַאֵין עוֹד חָכְמָה בְּתֵימָן (“Is there no longer wisdom in Teman?”), played a role in identifying the Queen of Sheba’s realm as Teman. The Queen of Sheba came to Solomon because she had heard of his great wisdom.

    Another factor that may have contributed to the identification of Sheba with Teman is the linkage in certain verses between Teman and Dedan on the one hand (Jer. 32[25]:23 [LXX]; Ezek. 25:13) and Dedan and Sheba on the other (Gen. 10:7; 25:3; Ezek. 38:13; 1 Chr. 1:9, 32). The LXX version of Gen. 25:3 (and so perhaps also a pre-Masoretic Hebrew vorlage) links all three names (τὸν Σαβα καὶ τὸν Θαιμαν καὶ τὸν Δαιδαν) together.
  • [46] The location of the Queen of Sheba’s kingdom on the continent of Africa likely had implications for the understanding of her ethnic identity. For musings on these implications, see Joshua N. Tilton, “Jesus, White Nationalism, and the Queen of Sheba,” on WholeStones.org.
  • [47] See Meier, “The Debate on the Resurrection of the Dead,” 19 n. 29; Tan, “The Queen of Sheba and the Jesus Traditions,” 60.
  • [48] See Dalman, 64.
  • [49] The only exception is the anomalous phrase הַדּוֹר זוּ (hadōr zū, “this generation”) in Ps. 12:8, which the LXX translators rendered as τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης (tēs geneas tavtēs, “this generation”; Ps. 11:8).
  • [50] Cf. Manson, Sayings, 92; Marshall, 486; Fitzmyer, 2:936. For a different view, see Tan, “The Queen of Sheba and the Jesus Traditions,” 52-53.
  • [51] See Cadbury, Style, 189; cf. Lindsey, LHNC, 66. A glance at Lindsey’s Greek Concordance of the Synoptic Gospels reveals how frequently Luke has ἀνήρ where it is lacking in the Matthean parallel, even where Matthew displays independence from Mark. See Lindsey, GCSG, 1:39-40. Moreover, as Tan (“The Queen of Sheba and the Jesus Traditions,” 52) noted, there is a striking difference in the frequency of ἀνήρ compared to ἄνθρωπος in Luke as compared to Acts. Whereas the Gospel of Luke has approximately one instance of ἀνήρ for every three and a half instances of ἄνθρωπος (Luke: ἀνήρ 27xx; ἄνθρωπος 95xx), in Acts there are approximately two instances of ἀνήρ for every one instance of ἄνθρωπος (Acts: ἀνήρ 100xx; ἄνθρωπος 46xx). This dramatic difference strongly suggests that the author of Luke preferred to use the gendered noun ἀνήρ when writing on his own, but generally accepted ἄνθρωπος when it occurred in his sources. Thus, any instance of ἀνήρ in Luke uncorroborated by Matthew is immediately suspect of Lukan redaction. Surprisingly, Tan (“The Queen of Sheba and the Jesus Traditions,” 52) did not draw this natural inference.
  • [52] On women as witnesses in ancient Jewish society, see Tal Ilan, Jewish Women in Greco-Roman Palestine (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996), 163-166.
  • [53] On Essene acceptance of women’s testimony, see Ilan, Jewish Women in Greco-Roman Palestine, 163; idem, Integrating Women into Second Temple History (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2001), 40-42.
  • [54] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:236-237.
  • [55] See Dos Santos, 42.
  • [56] See the “Story Placement” discussion in Woes on Three Villages. Cf. Flusser, “Jesus and the Sign of the Son of Man,” 531.
  • [57] Dalman (64) suggested that the Aramaic cognate חַיֵּב stood behind κατακρίνειν in Matt. 12:42 ∥ Luke 11:31. See also Joachim Jeremias, “Ἰωνᾶς,” TDNT, 3:406-410, esp. 408 n. 16.
  • [58] This parallel to Generations That Repented Long Ago was noted already by Gill (138).
  • [59] Hillel’s extreme poverty is described in a portion of b. Yom. 35b that we omitted from the quotation.
  • [60] On Eleazar ben Harsom’s wealth, see t. Yom. 1:22.
  • [61] See Gen. 39:6-15.
  • [62] See Ullendorff, “Candace (Acts VIII. 27) and the Queen of Sheba,” 54 n. 1.
  • [63] See Ginzberg, 2:961 n. 20.
  • [64] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1278-1280.
  • [65] See Dos Santos, 63.
  • [66] For an assessment of Jesus’ scriptural acumen, see David Flusser, “Hillel and Jesus: Two Ways of Self-Awareness,” in Hillel and Jesus: Comparative Studies of Two Major Religious Leaders (ed. James H. Charlesworth and Loren L. Johns; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 71-107, esp. 93-94.
  • [67] For a similar case, see our reconstruction of the comparative adjective μείζων (meizōn, “bigger,” “greater”) with גָּדוֹל מִן in Yeshua’s Words about Yohanan the Immerser, L32 and L35.
  • [68] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1491.
  • [69] See Segal, 134 §294.
  • [70] See Segal, 136 §295.
  • [71] The Hebrew version of Matthew contained in Shem Tov’s Even Bohan renders καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Σολομῶνος ὧδε (“And behold! Something greater than Solomon is here”) as והנני גדול משלמה (vehinēni gādōl mishelomoh, “And behold! I am greater than Solomon!” [ed. Howard, 58]). This christologically explicit declaration could never have given rise to the ambiguous Greek statement preserved in Matt. 12:42 ∥ Luke 11:31. The explanation for the medieval Hebrew version of Matthew is that it reflects an interpretation of the canonical Greek text of Matthew. In other words, the Hebrew version of Matthew preserved in Shem Tov’s Even Bohan is not the lost Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, nor should it be confused with the Hebrew source (viz., the Hebrew Life of Yeshua) that stands behind the Synoptic Gospels.
  • [72] Other variations are possible, e.g., חָכְמָה גְּדֹלָה מֵחָכְמַתוֹ שֶׁל שְׁלֹמֹה כָּן. Compare this reconstruction to the following statement in the Tosefta: קהלת אינה מטמאה את הידים מפני שהיא מחכמתו של שלמה (“Qohelet [i.e., Ecclesiastes—DNB and JNT] does not make one’s hands impure [i.e., is not canonical—DNB and JNT], since it merely came from Solomon’s own wisdom [i.e., and not from the Holy Spirit—DNB and JNT]”; t. Yad. 2:14 [ed. Zuckermandel, 683]). We may infer from this rabbinic statement that wisdom from the Holy Spirit was regarded as something greater than the wisdom of Solomon.
  • [73] On reconstructing ἀνήρ with אִישׁ, see Yohanan the Immerser’s Question, Comment to L19.
  • [74] Pace Luz (2:220), who wrote, “Its [i.e., Jesus’ generation’s—DNB and JNT] guilt consists in, and only in, its rejection of Jesus.”
  • [75] This he did inter alia in his teaching on love for enemies, in his teaching on non-retaliation, in his sermon in Nazareth in which he refused to proclaim divine vengeance, and by his stance regarding the payment of tribute to Caesar. Several of Jesus’ public actions also reveal his rejection of, and active opposition to, violent Jewish nationalism. Such actions include his praise for a Roman centurion’s faith, his association with toll collectors, and his decision to ride a donkey (instead of a charging stallion or a raging elephant) when he approached Jerusalem.
  • [76] See Flusser’s comment that “the main guilt of Jesus’ generation was its apocalyptic fever [sic ‘fervor’?—DNB and JNT] which found its dangerous expression in Zealotism” (“Jesus and the Sign of the Son of Man,” 531).
  • [77] On reconstructing ἀναστῆναι with קָם, see Healing Shimon’s Mother-in-law, Comment to L2-3.
  • [78] The fact that the medieval Hebrew version of Matthew preserved in Shem Tov’s Even Bohan has חזרו בתשובה (“they returned in repentance” [ed. Howard, 58]) as the equivalent of μετενόησαν (“they repented”) in Matt. 12:41 is further evidence that this Hebrew version of Matthew does not go back to the first century. The idiom חָזַר בִּתְשׁוּבָה is late. In tannaic sources we find the idiom עָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה.
  • [79] In rabbinic literature שונאיהם של ישראל is a common euphamism for Israel. See Jastrow, 1537 (שׂוֹנֵא).
  • [80] The remaining instances of κήρυγμα are found in 2 Chr. 30:5; 1 Esd. 9:3; Prov. 9:3.
  • [81] See J. W. Roberts, “A Note on the Preposition eis in Matthew 12:41,” Restoration Quarterly 2.1 (1958): 19-21.
  • [82] See Segal, 103 §228.
  • [83] See Hatch-Redpath, 3:93.
  • [84]
    Generations That Repented Long Ago
    Luke’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    βασίλισσα νότου ἐγερθήσεται ἐν τῇ κρίσει μετὰ τῶν ἀνδρῶν τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης καὶ κατακρινεῖ αὐτούς ὅτι ἦλθεν ἐκ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς ἀκοῦσαι τὴν σοφίαν Σολομῶνος καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Σολομῶνος ὧδε ἄνδρες Νινευεῖται ἀναστήσονται ἐν τῇ κρίσει μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης καὶ κατακρινοῦσιν αὐτήν ὅτι μετενόησαν εἰς τὸ κήρυγμα Ἰωνᾶ καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ ὧδε βασίλισσα νότου ἐγερθήσεται ἐν τῇ κρίσει μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης καὶ κατακρινεῖ αὐτήν ὅτι ἦλθεν ἐκ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς ἀκοῦσαι τὴν σοφίαν Σολομῶνος καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Σολομῶνος ὧδε ἄνδρες Νινευεῖται ἀναστήσονται ἐν τῇ κρίσει μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης καὶ κατακρινοῦσιν αὐτήν ὅτι μετενόησαν εἰς τὸ κήρυγμα Ἰωνᾶ καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ ὧδε
    Total Words: 55 Total Words: 53
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 52 Total Words Taken Over in Luke: 52
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 94.55% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Luke: 98.11%

  • [85]
    Generations That Repented Long Ago
    Matthew’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    ἄνδρες Νινευεῖται ἀναστήσονται ἐν τῇ κρίσει μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης καὶ κατακρινοῦσιν αὐτήν ὅτι μετενόησαν εἰς τὸ κήρυγμα Ἰωνᾶ καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ ὧδε βασίλισσα νότου ἐγερθήσεται ἐν τῇ κρίσει μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης καὶ κατακρινεῖ αὐτήν ὅτι ἦλθεν ἐκ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς ἀκοῦσαι τὴν σοφίαν Σολομῶνος καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Σολομῶνος ὧδε βασίλισσα νότου ἐγερθήσεται ἐν τῇ κρίσει μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης καὶ κατακρινεῖ αὐτήν ὅτι ἦλθεν ἐκ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς ἀκοῦσαι τὴν σοφίαν Σολομῶνος καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Σολομῶνος ὧδε ἄνδρες Νινευεῖται ἀναστήσονται ἐν τῇ κρίσει μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης καὶ κατακρινοῦσιν αὐτήν ὅτι μετενόησαν εἰς τὸ κήρυγμα Ἰωνᾶ καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ ὧδε
    Total Words: 53 Total Words: 53
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 53 Total Words Taken Over in Matt.: 53
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 100.00% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Matt.: 100.00%

  • [86] Cf., e.g., Gundry, Matt., 246.
  • [87] A self-referrential “Someone greater than Solomon and Jonah is here!” can only make sense if Generations That Repented Long Ago is understood in isolation, divorced from a teaching context. Even so, it is difficult to believe that Jesus condemned his entire generation for not recognizing that he was the Messiah. However, if our placement of Generations that Repented Long Ago within the context of the “Choose Repentance or Destruction” complex is correct, than the “obvious” interpretation no longer holds. In this complex Jesus did not speak about himself or the failure of his contemporaries to appreciate his personal greatness, instead Jesus expressed his concern that his contemporaries were in far greater trouble than past generations because of the dangerous trend toward militant Jewish nationalism among his contemporaries that was putting Israel on a collision course with the Roman empire.
  • [88] It was on the grounds that claiming to be greater than Jonah and Solomon was boastful that Vermes (Authentic, 182) denied that Generations That Repented Long Ago was ever spoken by Jesus.
  • [89] For the supposition that Jesus referred to the Kingdom of Heaven as the “something greater,” see Montefiore, 2:202; Manson, Sayings, 91-92; Meier, “The Debate on the Resurrection of the Dead,” 18.
  • [90] See Bultmann, 112-113.
  • [91] While it is true that Solomon and Jonah were “someones,” it is also true that they were “somethings.” Solomon was a purveyor of wisdom. Jonah was a prophet of doom. Our work to reconstruct the context in which Jesus spoke Generations that Repented Long Ago suggests that Jesus’ point was that his generation had been offered wisdom greater than Solomon’s, but they had rejected it. They had been delivered a prophecy of doom more dire than the prophecy Jonah delivered against Nineveh, yet they had ignored it. As a result, Jesus generation was destined to suffer the consequences: the loss of the Temple, the loss of semi-statehood within the Roman Empire, and the loss of countless lives.
  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton grew up in St. George, a small town on the coast of Maine. For his undergraduate degree he studied at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (2002). There he studied Biblical Hebrew and…
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