Matt. 24:28; Luke 17:37
(Huck 184, 218; Aland 235, 291; Crook 284, 331)
אֵיכָן הַפֶּגֶר שָׁם יֵאָסֵף הָעַיִט
“Where the carcass is, there the carrion birds assemble.
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To view the reconstructed text of Carrion Birds click on the link below:
Most scholars agree that the pericope we have entitled Carrion Birds belonged to a pre-synoptic collection of sayings that also included Like Lightning, Days of the Son of Man and Indiscriminate Catastrophe. Where scholars disagree is whether the Gospel of Matthew or Luke preserves the original placement of Carrion Birds relative to these other pericopae. Matthew places Carrion Birds immediately following Like Lightning, thereby giving the impression that Carrion Birds somehow describes the manner of the Son of Man’s coming. Luke places Carrion Birds at the end of the collection and introduces Carrion Birds with a question from Jesus’ disciples. This question gives the impression that Carrion Birds describes either the location of the Son of Man’s eschatological appearance or the place to which those who are “taken” are transported.
Scholars who prefer Matthew’s placement of Carrion Birds often point to their belief that the disciples’ question in Luke’s version is redactional and to the fact that the resulting question-and-answer structure of Luke’s version of Carrion Birds parallels the question-and-answer structure of The Kingdom Is Among You (Luke 17:20-21), with which the author of Luke opened the Son of Man section. On the basis of these observations some scholars argue that the author of Luke must have moved Carrion Birds from its original position following Like Lightning to its Lukan position at the end of the Son of Man section. But this argument is hardly conclusive, since it is just as easy to suppose that the author of Luke added the disciples’ question in order to minimize the awkwardness of Carrion Birds’ position—without the disciples’ question to introduce the saying, Carrion Birds hovers in mid-air—as it is to suppose that he moved Carrion Birds in order to add the question.
Indeed, the Lukan version of Carrion Birds forms a unequal partner to The Kingdom Is Among You. In The Kingdom Is Among You the Pharisees ask a straightforward question (“When will the Kingdom of God come?”) and receive an unambiguous reply (“The Kingdom of God is [already] in your midst”). But in Carrion Birds the disciples ask an ambiguous question (“Where, Lord?”)—Are they asking where the Son of Man will be revealed? Are they asking where those who will be “taken” are going? —and receive an enigmatic answer (“Where the body is, there too the eagles gather upon it”). Thus, Carrion Birds is a poor companion piece to The Kingdom Is Among You, making it difficult to believe that the author of Luke went out of his way to choose it for this purpose. On the other hand, it is easy to imagine the author of Luke finding Carrion Birds at the end of the Son of Man collection and adding the question-and-answer structure in order to help it close out the section by causing Carrion Birds to resemble (at least formally) The Kingdom Is Among You, with which he had opened the collection.
However, a stronger argument in favor of Luke’s placement of Carrion Birds can be made by asking what the original meaning of Jesus’ saying might have been. If the original meaning of Carrion Birds had to do with the Son of Man’s eschatological appearance, then the Matthean placement of this pericope may well be original. On the other hand, if the original meaning of Carrion Birds had to do with Jesus’ warnings of a catastrophic conflict between the Roman Empire and the Jews of Jesus’ generation, then the Lukan placement of the pericope becomes more attractive.
Exegetes have struggled to explain how Carrion Birds pertains to the Son of Man’s eschatological appearance. Is the corpse an allegorical representation of the Son of Man, and are the eagles supposed to represent the elect’s being gathered to the Son of Man? Are the eagles false messiahs who prey upon Israel? Or did Jesus quote a well-known proverb to the effect that the Son of Man will appear as swiftly or as inevitably as eagles (or vultures?) are drawn to a carcass? Or perhaps Jesus meant that the Son of Man will be drawn, like eagles to a corpse, to wherever he is needed? Or maybe Jesus meant that when the Son of Man comes no one will have to wonder where he is, just as eagles know intuitively where a carcass lies? But the very multiplicity of interpretations based on the supposition that Jesus quoted a proverb begs the question. No one has produced satisfying evidence of such a proverb having actually existed. Proverbs cite familiar images in order to make a point about something else (e.g., “a dog returning to its vomit”→someone who repeats his mistakes; cf. Prov. 26:11), but although the image of a vulture (or vultures) gathered around a corpse was as familiar in the ancient world as it is today, there is no evidence that saying “where the corpse is, there the eagles will be gathered” signaled speed or inevitability or universality or intuition. Moreover, the stock image was of vultures’, not eagles’, gathering over corpses. If Jesus had quoted a well-known proverb, a competent translator ought to have been able to select the correct Greek term, γύψ (gūps, “vulture”), instead of ἀετός (aetos, “eagle”).
Other scholars, therefore, have suggested that in Carrion Birds Jesus alluded to Job 39:30, which states:
וּבַאֲשֶׁר חֲלָלִים שָׁם הוּא
…and wherever the slain [are], there it [is]. (Job 39:30)
οὗ δ᾿ ἂν ὦσι τεθνεῶτες, παραχρῆμα εὑρίσκονται
…wherever the dead might be, immediately they are found. (Job 39:30)
This statement belongs to a poetic description in Job 39:27-30 of the vulture (נֶשֶׁר [nesher]), according to the Hebrew text, or, according to LXX, a description of the eagle (ἀετός [aetos]) and the vulture (γύψ [gūps]). Supposing Carrion Birds alludes to Job 39:30 would help explain its meaning in its Matthean context—the Son of Man will come suddenly like a flash of lightning (Matt. 24:27) and come immediately like vultures to a corpse (Matt. 24:28)—but in that case the allusion must depend on the LXX version of Job 39:30, since the Hebrew text says nothing about the vulture coming immediately. However, if the allusion is to the LXX version of Job 39:30, one wonders why none of the vocabulary in Carrion Birds agrees with this verse. Had Job 39:30 (LXX) really been the source of Carrion Birds, it ought to have read οὗ δ᾿ ἂν ὦσι τεθνεῶτες παραχρῆμα οἱ γῦπτες εὑρίσκονται (“wherever the dead [plur.] might be, immediately the vultures are found”) rather than ὅπου ἐὰν ᾖ τὸ πτῶμα ἐκεῖ συναχθήσονται οἱ ἀετοί (“wherever the corpse might be, there the eagles will be gathered together”), as we read in Matt. 24:28. Indeed, Matt. 24:28 omits precisely that word—παραχρῆμα (parachrēma, “immediately”)—that would make the allusion intelligible. The great difficulty with which scholars attempt to prove a connection between Carrion Birds and Job 39:30 suggests that the supposed allusion is, in fact, illusory.
If the original meaning of Carrion Birds cannot be elucidated by its Matthean context, do we fare better by attempting to understand it in its Lukan context? In Luke, too, Carrion Birds seems to be related in some way to the eschatological appearance of the Son of Man. But Carrion Birds was given its eschatological hue by the Anthologizer’s placement of Like Lightning at the head of a block of materials relating to Jesus’ warnings about the calamitous results of a coming confrontation between the Roman Empire and the Jewish people of the land of Israel. Jesus, in his capacity as the Son of Man, was a sign of impending judgment against his generation. But Jesus believed his prospects of success in averting Israel’s judgment were poor. Just as the people of Noah’s time had ignored the signs of a coming flood, and the people of Sodom had ignored Lot’s righteous example, so would the people of Jesus’ generation obdurately persist in their collision course with Rome. Such, we believe, was the original message of Days of the Son of Man. When war with Rome finally erupted, Jesus advised his contemporaries to flee for safety, leaving their possessions behind them. This, we contend, was the original message of Lesson of Lot’s Wife. They must suppress their attachment to their personal belongings in order to escape with their lives. This, we have suggested, was the original message of Preserving and Destroying. For when the Roman legions came, no one would be unaffected by the scale of destruction. Some would be slain, others would be taken captive, others would survive, but all would suffer. This, we have argued, was the original message of Indiscriminate Catastrophe. How does Carrion Birds fit into this context? Not as a proverb, nor as an allusion to Job 39:30, for these interpretations require the statement “wherever the body might be, there the eagles will gather upon it” to be a response to the disciples’ question “Where, Lord?”—a question that is most likely redactional (see below, Comment to L1-3). Carrion Birds does make sense, however, as an apocalyptic depiction of the calamity Jesus believed was about to befall Israel at the hands of the Romans.
In order to comprehend how Carrion Birds might make sense as a cryptic apocalyptic statement, it must first be understood that an essential trait of apocalyptic literature was to represent significant political events in symbolic terms. For example, Alexander the Great’s conquest of the east was depicted in Daniel as a one-horned goat that knocked down a ram (symbolizing the Median-Persian Empire) (Dan. 8:5-7). Alexander’s death and the division of his empire into four parts were symbolized as the breaking of the goat’s horn and the sprouting up of four new horns in its place (Dan. 8:8). And the rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes was depicted as a prong growing out of one of the horns (Dan. 8:9).
One of the classic texts for ancient Jewish apocalyptic exegesis was the story of the covenant between the pieces in Genesis 15. In this story God tells Abraham that his descendants will gain possession of the land of Canaan. Abraham, who at this point in the story is still childless, asks God how he can know that this promise will be fulfilled. God then tells Abraham to bring him a sacrifice. Abraham takes the specified animals, cuts them in half and arranges them so as to mark out a pathway between which someone could walk. Then, as Abraham waits for something to happen, carrion birds begin to circle overhead and attempt to settle on the carcasses (Gen. 15:11). Abraham drives them off, and as the sun sets Abraham falls into a deep sleep during which he sees a firebrand and a smoking oven pass between the animal pieces. In the vision it is revealed to Abraham that his descendants will be slaves in Egypt, but eventually they will return and take possession of the land promised him.
It is only natural that this story would attract the attention of apocalyptically-oriented Jewish interpreters, since in the story God reveals some of the political fortunes of Israel to Abraham. Apocalyptic exegetes later began to give symbolic meanings to the weird details of the animal pieces and the theophany. The sacrificial animals were interpreted as symbolizing the various empires that would rule over Israel, and the division of the animals into pieces symbolized the empires’ eventual fall. And, most notably for our purposes, the carrion birds’ settling on the carcasses symbolized the despoiling of defeated Israel by the Gentile kingdoms.
We do not know how ancient each of the elements of the apocalyptic approach to the covenant between the pieces might be, but we do know that Genesis 15 was being interpreted in an apocalyptic manner at least as early as the first century C.E. The book of Fourth Ezra alludes to the revelations given to Abraham at the covenant between the pieces (4 Ezra 3:13-14), and the Apocalypse of Abraham, composed in the late first to second century C.E. in the wake of the Temple’s destruction, attests to the early development of apocalyptic traditions focused on Genesis 15. With respect to the apocalyptic interpretation of the carrion birds’ settling on the carcasses in Gen. 15:11, Philo of Alexandria (first cent. C.E.), in his Questions and Answers on Genesis, explained to his readers that the descent of the birds on the carcasses “alludes to, and warns against, the attack of enemies” (QG 3:7; Loeb). For Philo, who was not apocalyptically oriented, to be aware of this interpretation of Gen. 15:11 suggests that it was already ancient and widespread by the time of Jesus.
There is every likelihood, therefore, that Jesus was acquainted with apocalyptic interpretations of Genesis 15 in general and of Gen. 15:11 in particular. Moreover, it would make sense for Jesus, who had already described the approaching clash between the Jewish people and the Roman Empire with apocalyptic imagery in Days of the Son of Man, Lesson of Lot’s Wife, Preserving and Destroying and Indiscriminate Catastrophe, to conclude his warnings by alluding to an apocalyptic tradition that interpreted the descent of the carrion birds on Abraham’s sacrifices in Gen. 15:11 as representing a defeated Israel’s being plundered by its enemies. It is even possible that Jesus knew a tradition that identified the carrion birds with Rome. Such traditions exist in rabbinic literature, but in any case, Rome was the most obvious enemy threatening Israel in the time of Jesus.
In summary, Carrion Birds in its Lukan position makes good sense if it is understood as an allusion to an apocalyptic interpretation of Gen. 15:11. “Where the carcass is, there the eagles will gather” describes the enormity of the destruction Jesus foresaw. Israel would be rendered carrion to be picked over by the Roman legions.Click here to view the Map of the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua. __________________________________________________________________
Conjectured Stages of Transmission
Despite the relatively low levels of verbal identity between the Lukan and Matthean versions of Carrion Birds, which Lindsey suggested was often caused by Luke’s reliance upon the First Reconstruction (FR) parallel to Matthew’s reliance upon the Anthology (Anth.), we believe the author of Luke, as well as the author of Matthew, relied on Anth. for Carrion Birds. Proof of Luke’s dependence on Anth. for Carrion Birds comes not from internal indications, where the pericope shows numerous signs of Greek redaction, but from external evidence. The Lukan-Matthean agreement to associate Carrion Birds with several other Son-of-Man-related pericopae, including Like Lightning, Days of the Son of Man and Indiscriminate Catastrophe, suggests that both authors took Carrion Birds from a source in which these pericopae belonged to a single unit. One of the pericopae in this unit (Like Lightning) has a refined Greek doublet that appears elsewhere in Luke (Luke 21:8-9), which leads us to surmise that Luke 21:8-9 was copied from FR. The corollary to this conclusion is that Anth. was the source from which the author of Luke copied Carrion Birds and the other pericopae associated with it. The verbal disparity between the Lukan and Matthean versions of Carrion Birds is best attributed to the redactional activity of the authors of Luke and/or Matthew.
- Why are eagles, rather than vultures, specified in the Greek text of Carrion Birds?
L1-3 Many scholars are agreed that the first half of Luke 17:37, which gives the Lukan version of Carrion Birds a question-and-answer format, was supplied by the author of Luke. We concur with this assessment. The phrase καὶ ἀποκριθέντες λέγουσιν αὐτῷ (kai apokrithentes legousin avtō, “and answering they say to him”; L1) is similar to ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς καὶ εἶπεν (apekrithē avtois kai eipen, “he answered them and said”), which occurs in The Kingdom Is Among You (Luke 17:20), upon which the question-and-answer format of Luke 17:37 was probably modeled. Moreover, the use of the historical present λέγουσιν (legousin, “they say”) is un-Hebraic and therefore probably redactional. Likewise, the disciples’ question, ποῦ κύριε (pou kūrie, “Where, Lord?”), echoes the Pharisees’ question in Luke 17:20, which opens with πότε (pote, “When?”). Thus, the first half of Luke 17:37 has every appearance of having been composed in order to help it close out the section that began in Luke 17:20. The question-and-answer format imposed upon Carrion Birds in Luke also gives meaning to the otherwise cryptic saying by transforming it into a response (albeit an evasive one) to an inquiry. In other words, the author of Luke has the disciples ask, “Where, Lord?” probably meaning “Where will the ‘one who is taken’ in the pair-in-bed and the women-grinding-flour scenarios of Indiscriminate Catastrophe go?” Jesus’ response, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered upon it,” suggests that the “one who is taken” will be transported to a place of judgment or, more likely, to the abode of the dead.
L4 ὅπου τὸ πτῶμα (GR). We suspect that the authors of Matthew and Luke both made small changes to Anth.’s wording in L4. The author of Matthew probably added ἐὰν ᾖ (ean ē, “[wher]ever might be”), which is absent in Luke and unnecessary in Hebrew. Luke and Matthew disagree with regard to the noun: Matthew has πτῶμα (ptōma, “carcass,” “corpse”), whereas Luke has σῶμα (sōma, “body” [living or dead]). Although Ehrhardt maintained that “with regard to meaning this is a distinction without a difference, for σῶμα is often used by the LXX to mean corpse,” Luke’s σῶμα can be seen as an attempt to make a coarse statement more palatable for his Greek readers. We have therefore accepted Matthew’s πτῶμα (“carcass”) for GR.
אֵיכָן הַפֶּגֶר (HR). In LXX the particle ὅπου (hopou, “where”) is relatively rare and has no consistent counterpart in the Hebrew text. Had we been reconstructing Carrion Birds in Biblical Hebrew, we might have adopted בַּאֲשֶׁר (ba’asher, “in which”), which can have the sense of “wherever,” but since we prefer to reconstruct direct speech in Mishnaic-style Hebrew, we have settled on אֵיכָן (’ēchān, “where”). On the use of אֵיכָן in a non-interrogative sense, see Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple, Comment to L13.
In LXX πτῶμα (ptōma, “carcass,” “corpse”) occurs infrequently and not consistently as the translation of any one Hebrew noun. In Ezek. 6:5, according to the text of Alexandrinus, πτῶμα occurs as the translation of פֶּגֶר (peger, “carcass,” “corpse”). We favor פֶּגֶר for HR because this is the noun used to refer to the halved carcasses in Gen. 15:11:
וַיֵּרֶד הָעַיִט עַל הַפְּגָרִים
And the carrion birds descended on the carcasses. (Gen. 15:11)
As we discussed in the Story Placement section above, we believe Carrion Birds alludes to an apocalyptic interpretation of this verse in Genesis. Interestingly enough, the word the LXX translators used to translate פֶּגֶר in Gen. 15:11 is σῶμα (“body”), the word that appears in Luke’s version of Carrion Birds. While this fact might seem to argue in favor of adopting Luke’s σῶμα in L4 for GR, there is no reason to suppose that the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua referred to LXX when he translated Carrion Birds into Greek.
L5 ἐκεῖ συναχθήσονται οἱ ἀετοί (GR). We have adopted Matthew’s wording in L5 for GR, since it follows Hebrew word order. Luke’s καί (kai, “and”) in the sense of “also” is a stylistic improvement typical of Lukan redaction, as is Luke’s use of ἐπισυνάγειν (episūnagein, “to gather upon”) compared to Matthew’s συνάγειν (sūnagein, “to gather”).
שָׁם יֵאָסֵף הָעַיִט (HR). On reconstructing ἐκεῖ (ekei, “there”) with שָׁם (shām, “there”), see Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, Comment to L88.
On reconstructing passive forms of the verb συνάγειν (sūnagein, “to gather”) with נֶאֱסַף (ne’esaf, “be gathered”), see Four Soils parable, Comment to L6.
Although the LXX translators never rendered the noun עַיִט (‘ayiṭ), which denotes the entire class of carnivorous birds, as ἀετός (aetos, “eagle”), we prefer עַיִט for HR because of our suspicion that Carrion Birds alludes to an apocalyptic interpretation of Gen. 15:11 in which this term for carrion birds occurs. We are, however, confronted with the question of why the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua would have rendered עַיִט as ἀετός, especially when the scene Carrion Birds depicts is more appropriate for vultures than for eagles. We believe the answer lies in the fact that the eagle was a familiar symbol of the Roman Empire and of its legions in particular. Had the Greek translator rendered עַיִט with the behaviorally more accurate γύψ (gūps, “vulture”), he would have gained specificity at the cost of misdirecting his readers, since the vulture was not a symbol of Rome. Had the Greek translator rendered עַיִט with the generic term ὄρνεον (orneon, “bird”), as the LXX translators did in Gen. 15:11, he would have more faithfully represented the Hebrew term but not its apocalyptic significance. Only by rendering עַיִט (“carrion bird”) as ἀετός (“eagle”) was the Greek translator able to capture the apocalyptic flavor of Jesus’ saying for his non-Hebrew-speaking readers.
The Lukan and Matthean versions of Carrion Birds each preserve important aspects of the pre-synoptic version of this pericope. Luke’s version likely preserves its original placement with respect to the pericopae that preceded it in Anth. and, ultimately, in the Hebrew Life of Yeshua. Matthew’s version of Carrion Birds preserves Anth.’s wording more faithfully than Luke’s.
|27.78||% of Anth.
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Lukan redaction of Carrion Birds can be classified in two parts: 1) in L1-3 the author of Luke added an introduction to the pericope; 2) in L4-5 the author of Luke made a few minor stylistic improvements. His editorial work in L1-3 helped Carrion Birds to function as a more suitable endpiece to a section that had opened in Luke 17:20 by mirroring the question-and-answer format of Luke 17:20 in Luke 17:37. The addition of the disciples’ question was also a way for the author of Luke to make sense of Jesus’ cryptic saying. “Where the body is, there the eagles gather upon it” becomes an answer to the inquiry “Where, Lord?” The question probably refers to the final destination of those who are “taken” in the preceding pericope (Indiscriminate Catastrophe). As an answer to their question Jesus’ saying remains mysterious, but hints that their plight will be an unpleasant one. In L4-5, where the author of Luke relied on Anth., the changes he made had no effect on the saying’s meaning; he simply chose more refined vocabulary and used less Hebraic word order.
|77.78||% of Anth.
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The author of Matthew copied every word of Anth.’s version of Carrion Birds, to which he added “wherever might be” in L4 as a stylistic improvement. His attachment of Carrion Birds to Like Lightning, however, significantly changed the pericope’s original meaning. Originally a saying about the calamity Jesus believed was in store for his contemporaries, the author of Matthew changed Carrion Birds into a saying about the Son of Man’s eschatological coming.
Results of This Research
1. Why are eagles, rather than vultures, specified in the Greek text of Carrion Birds? Although scholars are quite right to point out that the behavior described in Carrion Birds is more characteristic of vultures than eagles, vultures were not a symbol of the Roman Empire, and therefore translating עַיִט (“carrion bird”) as γύψ (“vulture”) could not convey the sense of the apocalyptic interpretation of Gen. 15:11 alluded to in Jesus’ saying. Eagles were a well-known symbol of the Roman Empire and therefore better suited to convey the sense of the tradition to which Jesus alluded that interpreted the carrion birds of Gen. 15:11 as the enemies of Israel.
In Carrion Birds Jesus portrayed the calamity in store for his generation in bleak, apocalyptic terms: his contemporaries would be the fulfillment of the warning that the carrion birds’ settling on Abraham’s sacrifices in Gen. 15:11 had symbolized.
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-  For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’” ↩
-  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. ↩
-  On this pre-synoptic collection of sayings relating to the Son of Man, see Days of the Son of Man, under the subheading “Story Placement.” ↩
-  Scholars who favor Matthew’s placement of Carrion Birds include Creed (221), Fitzmyer (2:1173), Kloppenborg (156), Nolland (Luke, 2:862), Catchpole (252), Bovon (2:514) and Wolter (2:313). See also Heinz O. Guenther, “When ‘Eagles’ Draw Together,” Forum 5.2 (1989): 140-150, esp. 145; Roger David Aus, “The Messiah as a Vulture in Matt 24:28 // Luke 17:37b,” in his My Name Is “Legion”: Palestinian Judaic Traditions in Mark 5:1-20 and Other Gospel Texts (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2003), 289-302, esp. 289, 298, 301. ↩
-  Scholars who favor Luke’s placement of Carrion Birds include Manson (Sayings, 147), Bundy (391 §302) and Gundry (Matt., 486-487). Taylor was somewhat inclined to accept Luke’s placement of Carrion Birds, but remained undecided. See Vincent Taylor, “The Original Order of Q,” in New Testament Essays: Studies in Memory of Thomas Walter Manson (ed. A. J. B. Higgins; Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959), 246-269, esp. 263. ↩
-  Kloppenborg (156) admitted that the redactional quality of the first half of Luke 17:37 does not in itself prove that Luke’s location of Carrion Birds is also secondary. ↩
-  See Wolter, 2:313. ↩
-  As we have discussed elsewhere, we believe it was the Anthologizer’s insertion of Like Lightning into the collection of Son of Man sayings now found in Luke 17 that gave an eschatological coloring to the entire collection. The original core of the collection did not concern the eschaton but the near term, during which Jesus, in his role as the Son of Man, served as a sign of destruction (at the hands of the Romans) for his generation. See Days of the Son of Man, under the “Story Placement” subheading. ↩
-  See Montefiore, TSG, 2:313. ↩
-  See Kloppenborg, 162. According to the first-century C.E. philosopher Cornutus, eagles (as distinct from vultures) were known for their swiftness:
ἱερὸς δ᾽ ὄρνις αὐτοῦ ἀετὸς λέγεται εἶναι διὰ τὸ ὀξύτατον τοῦτο τῶν πτηνῶν εἶναι.
The eagle [ἀετὸς] is said to be his [i.e., Zeus’—DNB and JNT] sacred bird because this is the swiftest of birds. (Cornutus, Greek Theology §9 [ed. Boys-Stones, 62-63])
Text and translation according to George Boys-Stones, ed. and trans., L. Annaeus Cornutus: Greek Theology, Fragments, and Testimonia (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2018). ↩
-  See McNeile, 351. ↩
-  See Creed, 221. ↩
-  See Guenther, “When ‘Eagles’ Draw Together,” 142. Cf. Montefiore, TSG, 2:313. ↩
-  O’Day points out this weakness of the “proverb” explanation. See Gail R. O’Day, “‘There the ? Will Gather Together’ (Luke 17:37): Bird-Watching as an Exegetical Activity,” in Literary Encounters with the Reign of God (ed. Sharon H. Ringe and H. C. Paul Kim; London: T&T Clark, 2004), 288-303, esp. 294. ↩
-  Although Ehrhardt adduced many instances of the image of vultures with corpses being alluded to in ancient sources, he failed to produce a single instance of the use of a proverb pertaining to vultures and corpses. See Arnold A. T. Ehrhardt, “Greek Proverbs in the Gospel,” Harvard Theological Review 46.1 (1953): 59-77, esp. 68-72.
Among the sources Ehrhardt cited are:
κατατέτακται δὲ εἰς σῖτα γυψίν· οἶδεν δὲ ἐν ἑαυτῷ ὅτι μένει εἰς πτῶμα.
But he [i.e., a tyrant (cf. Job 15:20)—DNB and JNT] has been appointed as grain for vultures [γυψίν], and he knows in himself that he is about to be a corpse [πτῶμα]. (Job 15:23)
γῦπα δ᾽ ἱερόν φασιν αὐτοῦ ὄρνιν εἶναι διὰ τὸ πλεονάζειν ὅπου πότ᾽ ἂν πτώματα πολλὰ ἀρηΐφθορα ᾖ.
The vulture [γῦπα] is said to be the bird sacred to him [i.e., the god Ares—DNB and JNT] because of their abundance wherever there are a lot of battle-slain corpses [πτώματα]. (Cornutus, Greek Theology §21 [ed. Boys-Stones, 98-99])
Amico aliquis aegro adsidet: probamus. At hoc hereditatis causa facit: vultur est, cadaver expectat.
When people sit by the bedsides of their sick friends, we honour their motives. But when people do this for attaining a legacy, they are like vultures [vultur] waiting for carrion [cadaver]. (Seneca, Epistle 95:43)
Text and translation according to Richard M. Gummere, Seneca: Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales (Loeb; 3 vols.; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1925), 3:86-87.
cuius vulturis hoc erit cadaver?
To what vulture [vulturis] shall this corpse [cadaver] belong? (Martial, Epigrams 6:62)
Text and translation according to Walter C. A. Ker, Martial: Epigrams (Loeb; 2 vols.; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1919), 1:396-397.
οὐκ ἐγὼ ἔλεγον ὅτι θᾶττον τοὺς γῦπας ἕωλος νεκρὸς ἐν φανερῷ κείμενος ἢ θέαμά τι τῶν παραδόξων Τιμόλαον διαλάθοι, κἂν εἰς Κόρινθον δέοι ἀπνεωστὶ θέοντα ἀπιέναι διὰ τοῦτο;
Didn’t I say that it was easier for vultures to miss a stinking corpse in the open than for Timolaus to miss an odd sight, even if he had to run off to Corinth for it without a pause for breath? (Lucian, The Ship §1)
Text and translation according to A. M. Harmon, K. Kilburn and M. D. Macleod, Lucian (Loeb; 8 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1913-1967), 6:430-431.
γὺψ νεκρῷ πολέμιος. ἐσθίει γοῦν ἐμπεσὼν ὡς ἐχθρὸν καὶ φθλάττει τεθνηξόμενον. καὶ μέντοι καὶ ταῖς ἐκδήμοις στρατιαῖς ἕπονται γῦπες, καὶ μάλα γε μαντικῶς ὅτι ἐς πόλεμον χωροῦσιν εἰδότεσ, καὶ ὅτι μάχη πᾶσα ἐργάζεται νεκρούς, καὶ τοῦτο ἐγνωκότες.
The Vulture is the dead body’s enemy. At any rate it swoops upon it as though it were an adversary and devours it, and watches a man who is in the throes of death. Vultures even follow in the wake of armies in foreign parts, knowing by prophetic instinct that they are marching to war and that every battle provides corpses, as they have discovered. (Aelian, On the Characteristics of Animals 2:46)
Text and translation according to A. F. Scholfield, Aelian: On the Characteristics of Animals (Loeb; 3 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958-1959), 1:144-145.
In addition, we note the following example (cited in Boring-Berger-Colpe, 230):
καὶ καθάπερ οἱ γῦπτες ἐπὶ τὰς ὀσμὰς τῶν διεφθορότων σωμάτων φέρονται, τῶν δὲ καθαρῶν καὶ ὑγιαινόντων αἴσθησιν οὐκ ἔχουσιν, οὕτω τὰ νοσοῦντα τοῦ βίου καὶ φαῦλα καὶ πεπονθότα κνεῖ τὸν ἐχθρόν, καὶ πρὸς ταῦθ᾽ οἱ μισοῦντες ᾄττουσι καὶ τούτων ἅπτονται καὶ σπαράττουσι.
And just as vultures [οἱ γῦπτες] are drawn to the smell of decomposed bodies [σωμάτων], but have no power to discover those that are clean and healthy, so the infirmities, meannesses, and untoward experiences of life rouse the energies of the enemy, and it is such things as these that the malevolent pounce upon and tear to pieces. (Plutarch, Moralia: How to Profit By One’s Enemies §3 [87D])
Text and translation according to Frank Cole Babbit et al., trans., Plutarch’s Moralia (Loeb; 16 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1927-2004), 2:10-11.
Topel noted that “many exegetes speak of vultures being drawn to the carcass by scent. Old world vultures, unlike new world Cathartidae, have no sense of smell; they find the carcass by sight.” However, Plutarch’s remarks show that the mistake, so common among modern commentators, is an ancient one. See John Topel, “What Kind of a Sign Are Vultures? Luke 17,37b,” Biblica 84.3 (2003): 403-411, esp. 405 n. 21. ↩
-  See Warren Carter, “Are There Imperial Texts in the Class? Intertextual Eagles and Matthean Eschatology as ‘Lights Out’ Time for Imperial Rome (Matthew 24:27-31),” Journal of Biblical Literature 122.3 (2003): 467-487, esp. 470; Steven L. Bridge, ‘Where the Eagles are Gathered’: The Deliverance of the Elect in Lukan Eschatology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 58-65; O’Day, “‘There the ? Will Gather Together,’” 288-303. ↩
-  Cf., e.g., Aus, “The Messiah as a Vulture in Matt 24:28 // Luke 17:37b,” 293-295. ↩
-  Vultures are the birds mentioned last in Job 39:27. This, together with the description of the bird in question being found with the dead, would naturally lead a Greek reader to suppose that Job 39:30 referred to vultures rather than eagles. See Carter, “Are There Imperial Texts in the Class?” 470. Indeed, it is probably the depiction of the nesher seeking out the bodies of the slain that induced the LXX translators to add vultures to Job 39:27, since they knew that this behavior was not appropriate for eagles. See Bridge, ‘Where the Eagles are Gathered,’ 64-65; O’Day, “‘There the ? Will Gather Together,’” 292-293. ↩
-  According to Gundry (Use, 88), “Mt and Lk supply οἱ ἀετοί from the preceding context in Job. Their (ἐπι)συναχθήσονται supplies the missing verb in the Hebrew and completely disagrees with the LXX, according to which the carcasses are found by the vultures.” In other words, Jesus’ saying in Carrion Birds resembles neither the Hebrew nor the Greek text of Job 39:30. Why then maintain, as Gundry does, that Jesus’ saying has any connection to Job 39:30? ↩
-  In our opinion, Carter has made an excellent attempt to make sense of Carrion Birds in its Matthean context. See Carter, “Are There Imperial Texts in the Class?” 467-487. Carter does not, however, address the redactional character of the eschatological discourse of Matthew 24 in which Carrion Birds appears. The author of Matthew used Mark 13’s eschatological discourse as a framework upon which to build his own more expansive discourse by inserting non-Markan materials at points he found to be appropriate. The author of Matthew’s method of constructing his eschatological discourse does not give us confidence that he preserved Carrion Birds in its original context. ↩
-  See Sign-Seeking Generation, Comment to L39. ↩
-  We have, in any case, seen that the evidence for a proverb about corpses and vultures is scarce and that an allusion to Job 39:30 is strained. ↩
-  4 Ezra 3:13-14 alludes to the tradition of apocalyptic interpretation of Gen. 15. See Michael E. Stone, Fourth Ezra (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 71. ↩
-  On ancient Jewish apocalyptic interpretations of the covenant between the pieces, see Ginzberg, 1:198-201. See also Michael E. Stone, “Apocalyptic Literature,” in Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period (CRINT II.2; ed. Michael E. Stone; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 383-441, esp. 416. ↩
-  Cf., e.g., Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BaḤodesh §9 (ed. Lauterbach, 2:339). ↩
-  An amalgamation of sometimes conflicting apocalyptic interpretations of the covenant of the pieces is found in the following midrash:
וירד העיט על הפגרים . אלו עופות שדורסין: וישב אותם אברם. הפריחן מעליהן: ד″א קחה לי עגלה משולשת. זו בבל…ועז משולשת. זה יון…ואיל משולש. זו מדי…ותור, זו אדום…וגוזל. אלו ישראל…ולמה נקרא גוזל, שאלו ד′ מלכיות גוזלין את ישראל: ויבתר אותם בתוך. כדי להכחישם: ויתן איש בתרו. שאין מלכות נוגעת בחברתה אפילו כמלוא נימה: ואת הצפור לא בתר. זו הגוזל, כדי שיהיה כח לישראל לקבל גזירותיהם: וירד העיט על הפגרים . זה דוד בן ישי שנקרא עיט, שנאמר העיט צבוע נחלתי לי: וישב אותם אברם. הפריחן אברהם כדי שלא יהיה להם חלק לעולם הבא: ויהי השמש לבוא. זה משיח בן דוד שנקרא שמש, שנאמר וכסאו כשמש נגדו: ותרדמה נפלה על אברם. עד שיבוא המשיח יהיו לישראל כאילו רדומים ביניהם: והנה אימה. זו מלכות אדום…חשיכה זו יון… גדולה. זו מלכות מדי…נופלת עליו. זו בבל…ארבעה דברים הראה הקב″ה לאברהם, תורה וקרבנות ומלכיות וגיהנם. תורה מנין, שנאמר ולפיד אש. קרבנות, קחה לי עגלה משולשת. גיהנם, תנור עשן. מלכיות, אימה חשיכה, אמר לו כל זמן שבניך מתעסקים בתורה ובמצות ניצולים מגיהנם וממלכיות
And the carrion birds descended on the carcasses [Gen. 15:11]. These are birds that attack [their prey—DNB and JNT]. And Abram drove them away [Gen. 15:11]. He chased them away from the carcasses. Another interpretation: Take for me a three-year-old calf [Gen. 15:9]—this is Babylon…. And a three-year-old goat [Gen. 15:9]—this is Greece…. And a three-year-old ram [Gen. 15:9]—this is Media…. And a dove [Gen. 15:9]—this is Edom [i.e., Rome—DNB and JNT]…. And a young pigeon [Gen. 15:9]—this is Israel…. And why is Israel called a young pigeon? Because these four empires despoil Israel. And he cut them in two [Gen. 15:10]—in order to curtail them. And the carrion birds descended on the carcasses [Gen. 15:11]—this is David son of Jesse, who is called a carrion bird, as it is said, Is the painted carrion bird my inheritance? [Jer. 12:9]. And Abram drove them away [Gen. 15:11]—Abraham chased them away so that they would not have a portion in the world to come. And the sun set [Gen. 15:12]—this is the Messiah the son of David, who is called the sun, as it is said, And his throne is like the sun opposite him [Ps. 89:37]. And deep sleep fell upon Abram [Gen. 15:12]—before the Messiah comes it will be for Israel as though they were fast asleep among them. And behold! Dread [Gen. 15:12]—this is the empire of Edom [i.e., Rome—DNB and JNT]…. Darkness [Gen. 15:12]—this is Greece…. Great [Gen. 15:12]—this is the empire of Media…. Fell upon him [Gen. 15:12]—this is Babylon…. Four things did the Holy One, blessed be he, show to Abraham: the Torah, and sacrifices, and the empires, and Gehenna. Torah: how so? Because it is said, and a fiery torch [Gen. 15:17]. Sacrifices: [how so? Because it is said,] Take for me a three-year-old calf [Gen. 15:9]. Gehenna: [how so? Because it is said,] a smoking oven [Gen. 15:17]. The empires: [how so? Because it is said,] Dread, darkness [Gen. 15:12]. He [i.e., God—DNB and JNT] said to him [i.e., Abraham—DNB and JNT], “As long as your children occupy themselves with Torah and the commandments they will be delivered from Gehenna and the Empires.” (Midrash Aggadah, Lech Lecha [ed. Buber, 1:33-34])
Text according to Salomon Buber, ed., Agadischer Commentar zum Pentateuch nach einer Handschrift aus Aleppo (2 vols.; Vienna: Druck und Verlag, 1894).
The presence of conflicting interpretations—e.g., that the carrion birds represent the foreign empires and that the carrion birds represent King David (or the Messiah)—demonstrates that the individual elements presented in this midrash are more ancient than their amalgamation. ↩
-  For instance, in a version of Deuteronomy Rabbah we read the following:
עליהם עוף השמים ישכון אלו המלכיות שהן משעבדות בישראל, שנא′ וירד העיט על הפגרים ואע″פ שהן משעבדות בהן, מתוך צרתן ומתוך שעבודם הן מקלסין להקב″ה
Upon them the birds of the sky roost [Ps. 104:12]. These are the kingdoms that subdue Israel, as it is said, The carrion birds descended upon the carcasses [Gen. 15:11]. But although they subdue them, in the midst of their trials and in the midst of their enslavement they praise the Holy One, blessed be he. (Deut. Rab., VaEtḥanan [ed. Liebermann, 66])
Text according to Saul Liebermann, ed., Midrash Debarim Rabbah (2d ed.; Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1964). ↩
-  The Apocalypse of Abraham is now extant only in Slavonic and Romanian versions, but it once existed in Greek and was probably translated from a Hebrew or Aramaic original. On the Apocalypse of Abraham, see Stone, “Apocalyptic Literature,” 415-418. ↩
-  Thus, in Midrash HaGadol we read:
וירד העיט על הפגרים…זו מלכות אדום שדשה את ישראל ופיזרה אותן ועשת אותן פגרים מתים
The carrion birds descended upon the carcasses [Gen. 15:11]…. This is the empire of Edom [i.e., Rome—DNB and JNT], which trampled Israel and scattered them and made them dead corpses. (Midrash HaGadol to Gen. 15:11 [ed. Schechter, 1:235])
Text according to Solomon Schechter, ed., Midrash Hag-Gadol (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902).
In the Apocalypse of Abraham the carrion birds of Gen. 15:11 are equated with Azazel, one of the names of Satan (Apoc. Abr. §13). According to some apocalyptic traditions, Satan was regarded as the angelic prince who presided over the Roman Empire. See Joshua N. Tilton, “Like Lightning from Heaven (Luke 10:18): Jesus’ Apocalyptic Vision of the Fall of Satan.” ↩
-  Cf. Lightfoot, 2:319; Gill, 7:293. ↩
-  According to Lindsey’s hypothesis, Anth. was the only source of Matthew’s non-Markan Double Tradition pericopae. ↩
-  On verbal identity in Lukan-Matthean Double Tradition pericopae as an indicator of the sources used by the authors of Luke and Matthew, and for the exact figures of verbal identity in Carrion Birds, see LOY Excursus: Criteria for Distinguishing Type 1 from Type 2 Double Tradition Pericopae. ↩
-  In Luke, each of these pericopae appear in Luke 17; in Matthew, each of these pericopae appear in Matt. 24. ↩
-  See Bundy, 391 §302; Fitzmyer, 2:1173; Kloppenborg, 156; Nolland, Luke, 2:857; Davies-Allison, 3:354 n. 180; Bovon, 2:525; Wolter, 2:313. ↩
-  If the first half of Luke 17:37 had been based on a Hebrew source, we would have expected to find καὶ ἀποκριθέντες εἶπαν (kai apokrithentes eipan, “and answering they said”), as, in fact, we do in Matt. 21:27 (cf. Mark 11:33); 26:66; Luke 9:19. ↩
-  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 “An Examination of the Editorial Activity of the First Reconstructor,” Comment to L84-86. ↩
-  Cf. Guenther, “When ‘Eagles’ Draw Together,” 140; Davies-Allison, 3:354. ↩
-  See Ehrhardt, “Greek Proverbs in the Gospel,” 68. ↩
-  See Plummer, Luke, 410; Harnack, 107; Cadbury, Style, 187; Gundry, Use, 88; Davies-Allison, 3:354; Bovon, 2:524. ↩
-  See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1239. ↩
-  In LXX σῶμα occurs as the translation of פֶּגֶר in Gen. 15:11; 4 Kgdms. 19:35; Isa. 37:36. ↩
-  Cf. Bridge, ‘Where the Eagles are Gathered,’ 53. ↩
-  See Sign-Seeking Generation, Comment to L42-43; Days of the Son of Man, Comment to L10; Cadbury, Style, 146-147. Cf. Bridge, ‘Where the Eagles are Gathered,’ 52. ↩
-  See Davies-Allison, 3:354. On the author of Luke’s general preference for compound verbs, see Cadbury, Style, 166. ↩
-  See G. D. Driver, “Birds in the Old Testament I. Birds in Law,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 87.1 (1955): 5-22, esp. 5. ↩
-  Cf. Aus, “The Messiah as a Vulture in Matt 24:28 // Luke 17:37b,” 290-291. ↩
-  In this regard we are in agreement with Topel, “What Kind of a Sign Are Vultures? Luke 17,37b,” 405-406. ↩
-  The eagle as a symbol of Rome was well established in the first century in the land of Israel. King Herod’s erection of a golden eagle at the entrance to the Temple aroused sharp opposition not only because of the Jewish avoidance of figural art, but also—although Josephus does not say this—because it was a symbol of the imperial power (J.W. 1:650-651; Ant. 17:151-155). In 4 Ezra 11:1-12:39 an eagle symbolizes the Roman Empire in an apocalyptic vision. On the Roman legions’ ownership of the eagle as their symbol, see Jos., J.W. 3:123. On the eagle as a symbol of Rome, see further Carter, “Are There Imperial Texts in the Class?” 474-476. ↩
-  Incidentally, the Greek word ἀετός (aetos) sounds not unlike the Hebrew term עַיִט (‘ayiṭ). It was not unknown for ancient translators to allow homophony (like-soundingness) to influence their lexical choices. See Emmanuel Tov, “Loan-Words, Homophony, and Transliteration in the Septuagint,” in his The Greek and Hebrew Bible: Essays on the Septuagint (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 165-182, esp. 170-174. Aus (“The Messiah as a Vulture in Matt 24:28 // Luke 17:37b,” 291) suggested that ἀετός may even be philologically related to עַיִט. ↩
Carrion Birds Luke’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed) καὶ ἀποκριθέντες λέγουσιν αὐτῷ ποῦ κύριε ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὅπου τὸ σῶμα ἐκεῖ καὶ οἱ ἀετοὶ ἐπισυναχθήσονται ὅπου τὸ πτῶμα ἐκεῖ συναχθήσονται οἱ ἀετοί Total Words: 18 Total Words: 7 Total Words Identical to Anth.: 5 Total Words Taken Over in Luke: 5 Percentage Identical to Anth.: 27.78% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Luke: 71.43%
Carrion Birds Matthew’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed) ὅπου ἐὰν ᾖ τὸ πτῶμα ἐκεῖ συναχθήσονται οἱ ἀετοί ὅπου τὸ πτῶμα ἐκεῖ συναχθήσονται οἱ ἀετοί Total Words: 9 Total Words: 7 Total Words Identical to Anth.: 7 Total Words Taken Over in Matt.: 7 Percentage Identical to Anth.: 77.78% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Matt.: 100.00%