Fig Tree Parable

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The Fig Tree parable offers assurance that despite the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, Israel will eventually be redeemed.

Matt. 24:32-33; Mark 13:28-29; Luke 21:28-31

(Huck 220; Aland 293; Crook 333)[1]

וּבִזְמָן שֶׁיַּתְחִילוּ אֵלּוּ לְהֵעָשׂוֹת הִזָּקְפוּ וּשְׂאוּ אֶת רָאשֵׁיכֶם שֶׁהִגִּיעָה גְּאֻלַּתְכֶם וַיִּמְשׁוֹל לָהֶם מָשָׁל [לֵאמֹר] הֲרֵי הַתְּאֵנָה בִּזְמָן שֶׁחָנְטָה אַתֶּם יוֹדְעִים שֶׁהִגִּיעַ הַקַּיִץ כָּךְ בִּזְמָן שֶׁאַתֶּם רוֹאִים אֶת אֵלּוּ דְּעוּ שֶׁהִגִּיעַ הַקֵּץ

“But when these things begin to be done, straighten up and lift your heads, for your redemption has arrived.”

And he told them a parable, saying, “Take the fig tree. When it sprouts fruit buds, you know that the summer has arrived. Likewise, when you see these things, know that the time of redemption has arrived.”[2]

A reproduction of our reconstruction in an ancient Hebrew script. Font, based on the Isaiah Scroll from Qumran (1QIsaa), created by Kris Udd.

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Reconstruction

To view the reconstructed text of the Fig Tree parable click on the link below:

“Destruction and Redemption” complex
Temple’s Destruction Foretold

Tumultuous Times

Yerushalayim Besieged

Son of Man’s Coming

Fig Tree parable

Story Placement

Some scholars, almost all of whom work from the presumption of Markan Priority, have doubted whether the Fig Tree parable originally belonged as part of Jesus’ prophecy of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. These scholars point out that the genre (parable) is entirely different from the preceding material (apocalyptic discourse), and they argue that the parable’s message does not cohere with the content of Jesus’ prophecy. The parable’s imagery, they suggest, should convey a message of hope—the fig tree’s budding is a promising sign of the joyful harvest—but the only signs in Jesus’ prophecy are portents of judgment and destruction.[3] These scholars therefore attempt to interpret the parable independently of its present context and conclude that what is similar to the promising sign of the budding fig tree is Jesus’ ministry of healing and casting out demons. When people witness Jesus’ miracles they ought to conclude that the Kingdom of God is near, just as when they see budding fig trees they ought to conclude that summer is near. According to this view, the author of Luke, despite preserving the Fig Tree parable in its Markan context, somehow discerned (or accidentally stumbled across) the original meaning of Jesus’ parable and was therefore able to correctly supply the missing subject (the Kingdom of God) of Mark’s “it is near.”[4]

We, on the other hand, view the Fig Tree parable as a fitting conclusion to Jesus’ prophecy of destruction and redemption.[5] The change in genre from apocalyptic discourse to parable does not perturb us because, as Lindsey observed, Jesus typically concluded his teaching discourses with one or more illustrations, usually delivered in parabolic form. Likewise, the hopeful message of the parable fits its Lukan context, where Jesus assures his Jewish audience that when the things he described in his prophecy begin to take place, they can nevertheless take heart because God will redeem his people in the end (Luke 21:28). Indeed, there is almost perfect structural parallelism between Luke 21:28 (assertion demanding proof), Luke 21:29-30 (parable) and Luke 21:31 (application), which we have charted below:

Luke 21:28 Luke 21:29-30 Luke 21:31
When these things begin to happen When the fig tree puts forth When these things happen
lift up your heads because your redemption is near. you know that the summer is near. know that the Kingdom of God is near.

Although we believe Luke’s version of the Fig Tree parable does have secondary features—to be discussed in the Comment section below—the conformity of the parable and its application to Jesus’ assertion (“your redemption is near”) clearly shows that the Fig Tree parable is perfectly at home in its Lukan setting.

Not only does the Fig Tree parable make sense in its Lukan context, the ethos of Luke’s version of the Fig Tree parable is entirely Jewish. It expresses solidarity with Israel and confidence in God’s commitment to his people despite their disobedience, and, with its imagery of fig trees and the change of seasons, it appears to reflect ancient midrashic traditions that interpret Song of Songs 2:10-13 (a passage in which the images of the fig tree and the change of seasons occur) as referring to Israel’s redemption. These characteristics of Luke’s version of the Fig Tree parable, which are absent in the Markan and Matthean versions,[6] boost our confidence not only in Luke’s placement of the parable but also in our judgment that Luke’s Gospel has preserved the most authentic version of the parable to be found in the Synoptic Gospels.

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

Conjectured Stages of Transmission

As with the other pericopae that make up Jesus’ prophecy of destruction and redemption in Luke 21, the author of Luke inherited the Fig Tree parable from the First Reconstruction (FR). The author of Mark based his version of the Fig Tree parable on Luke’s, but he dropped the reference to Israel’s redemption and reinterpreted the parable in terms of Jesus’ eschatological return as the Son of Man. The author of Matthew accepted Mark’s wording of the Fig Tree parable with only a few slight changes of vocabulary and word order.

Crucial Issues

  1. What was the Fig Tree parable originally about?

Comment

L1-6 We believe Luke 21:28 is both original and key to the correct interpretation of the Fig Tree parable. That Luke 21:28 is original—which is to say, not a Lukan or FR composition—is indicated by grammar, vocabulary and content. The grammatical structure ἄρχειν + infinitive with which the verse opens (L1-2) is easy to reconstruct in Hebrew and not typical of Lukan redaction.[7] Neither is the distinctive vocabulary in Luke 21:28 particularly Lukan. The verb ἀνακύπτειν (anakūptein, “to straighten up,” “to lift the head”) occurs elsewhere in Luke-Acts only in Luke 13:11, and the noun ἀπολύτρωσις (apolūtrōsis, “redemption”) is unique to Luke 21:28 in the Lukan corpus.[8] Some scholars have concurred with our judgment that Luke 21:28 stems from one of Luke’s sources.[9]

If it be accepted that Luke 21:28 is an original and integral part of Jesus’ prophecy of destruction and redemption, to which the Fig Tree parable also belongs, then regarding this verse as key to the interpretation of the Fig Tree parable logically follows. It now becomes impossible to explain away the structural parallelism (discussed above) between Luke 21:28 and the parable (Luke 21:29-30) and application (Luke 21:31) that follow. It also becomes impossible to dismiss the similarity of Luke 21:28-31 to Song of Songs 2:10-13 and especially to the ancient Jewish interpretations of this passage, fragments of which are preserved in rabbinic sources.

The best way to demonstrate the similarity of Luke 21:28-31 to Song of Songs 2:10-13 is to present both passages in parallel columns:

Song of Songs 2:10-13 Luke 21:28-31
2:10 My beloved answered and said to me,
Arouse yourself, my beloved, my beauty, and go, 21:28 “When these things begin to happen, straighten yourselves and lift up your heads,
2:11 for the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
2:12 The flowers appear in the land,
the time of zāmir [“singing”/“pruning”][10] has arrived, for the time of your redemption has arrived.”
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
21:29 And he told them a parable:
2:13 The fig tree forms its green figs, “Look at the fig tree21:30 when it has already put forth,
you see and know for yourselves that the summer is already near.
and the flowering vines give their scent.
Arouse yourself, my beloved, my beauty, and go.” 21:31 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that the Kingdom of God is near.”

As we see from the parallel columns, nearly every element in Luke 21:28-31 has a counterpart in Song of Songs 2:10-13. Jesus’ encouragement to straighten up and lift one’s head is parallel to the lover’s coaxing of his beloved to rouse herself and come away. The passing of winter in Song 2:11 is parallel to the approach of summer in Luke 21:30.[11] Jesus’ declaration that the time of redemption has arrived is parallel to the lover’s declaration that the time of singing/pruning has arrived. The fig tree’s putting forth (fruit) in Jesus’ parable parallels the fig tree’s formation of green figs in Song 2:13. And the reiteration of Jesus’ encouragement in the parable’s application mirrors the repetition of the lover’s coaxing of his beloved in Song 2:13. So many points of contact with Song 2:10-13 in the Fig Tree parable can hardly be coincidental.[12]

Rabbinic sources interpret this Song of Songs passage as referring to the redemption of Israel, whether that be Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt, Israel’s return to Zion following the Babylonian exile, or the final redemption in the messianic era. Of particular interest is the interpretation of the stanza “the time of singing/pruning has arrived” (Song 2:12). In Song of Songs Rabbah we read:

עת הזמיר הגיע הגיע זמנן של ישראל להגאל, הגיע זמן של ערלת הלב להזמר, הגיע זמן של [מלכות] כתים שתכלה, הגיע זמנה של מלכות שמים שתגלה, שנאמר והיה ה′ למלך על כל הארץ

The time of the zāmir [“singing/pruning”] has arrived [Song 2:12]—Israel’s time has come to be redeemed, the time has come for the foreskin of the heart to be pruned, the time of [the kingdom of] the Samaritans has come that it should end,[13] the time of the Kingdom of Heaven has come that it should be revealed, as it is said, and the LORD will be King over all the earth [Zech. 14:9]. (Song Rab. 2:13 §4 [ed. Etelsohn, 121])

The lover’s coaxing at the opening and close of the Song of Songs passage is interpreted along these lines in other rabbinic sources. For instance:

קוּמִי לָךְ רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי לָךְ שֶׁהֲרֵי הִגִּיעַ קֵץ הַגְּאֻלָּה

Arouse yourself, my beloved, my beauty, and go [Song 2:13]—for behold, the time of redemption has arrived [הִגִּיעַ קֵץ הַגְּאֻלָּה]. (Num. Rab. 15:12 [ed. Merkin, 10:146-147])

In a similar vein, we read this imagined exchange between God and Moses:

עָנָה דוֹדִי וְאָמַר לִי מָה אַתְּ עוֹשָׂה בִּמְקוֹם טְמֵאִים…קוּמִי לָךְ רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי לָךְ, אָמַר לְפָנָיו רִבּוֹן הָעוֹלָמִים אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה אָמַרְתָּ לָנוּ לְהִשְׁתַּעְבֵּד וַעֲדַיִן לֹא שָׁלֵמוּ, אֲמַר לֵהּ כְּבָר שָׁלֵמוּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר כִּי הִנֵּה הַסְּתָיו עָבָר

My beloved answered and said to me [Song 2:10], “What are you doing in a place of impurities [i.e., in Egypt—DNB and JNT]?”…. Arouse yourself, my beloved, my beauty, and go [Song 2:10] [i.e., leave the land of your enslavement behind—DNB and JNT]. He [i.e., Moses—DNB and JNT] said before him, “Master of the worlds, you said there were four hundred years for us to be enslaved, and they are still not complete.” He [i.e., God—DNB and JNT] said to him, “They are already complete,” as it is said, For behold, the winter is past [Song 2:11]. (Exod. Rab. 15:1 [ed. Merkin, 5:161])

In this last example the arrival of the time of redemption is replaced with the completion of the time of servitude, a phrase strongly reminiscent of Jesus’ statement in Yerushalayim Besieged (L45-49) that Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until their times are complete (Luke 21:24).

The rabbinic sources we have cited above clearly indicate that if in the Fig Tree parable Jesus drew on Song 2:10-13 and on the ancient midrashic traditions based on this Song of Songs passage,[14] then the Fig Tree parable must surely relate to the redemption of Israel, as Luke 21:28 correctly states.

L1-2 ὅταν δὲ ἄρξονται ταῦτα γίνεσθαι (GR). Genitive absolute constructions, such as ἀρχομένων δὲ τούτων γείνεσθαι (archomenōn de toutōn geinesthai, “but when these things begin to happen”) in Luke 21:28, are difficult to reconstruct in Hebrew and, in the Synoptic Gospels, are often the product of redaction.[15] On the other hand, ἄρχειν + infinitive constructions are easy to revert to Hebrew and are more likely to come from Luke’s source(s) than to be the product of Lukan redaction.[16] We therefore suspect that either the First Reconstructor or the author of Luke converted a phrase like ὅταν δὲ ἄρξονται ταῦτα γίνεσθαι (hotan de arxontai tavta ginesthai, “but when these things begin to happen”)[17] into the genitive absolute construction we find in L1-2.

A fig tree bare of leaves in the winter. Photographed in Israel by Hedva Sanderovitz. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

וּבִזְמָן שֶׁיַּתְחִילוּ אֵלּוּ לְהֵעָשׂוֹת (HR). On reconstructing ὅταν (hotan, “when”) with the phrase -בִּזְמָן שֶׁ (bizmān she-, “in a/the time that”), see Yerushalayim Besieged, Comment to L1.

On reconstructing ἄρχειν (archein, “to begin”) with הִתְחִיל (hitḥil, “begin”), see Tower Builder and King Going to War, Comment to L8. The selection of הִתְחִיל reflects our preference for reconstructing direct speech into Mishnaic-style Hebrew. Had we chosen to reconstruct Jesus’ speech in biblicizing Hebrew, הֵחֵל (hēḥēl, “begin”) would have been the correct selection.

Our preference for Mishnaic-style Hebrew also explains our selection of אֵלּוּ (’ēlū, “these [things]”) instead of אֵלֶּה (’ēleh, “these [things]”) for HR.

On reconstructing γίνεσθαι (ginesthai, “to be,” “to become”) with נַעֲשָׂה (na‘asāh, “be done”), see Temple’s Destruction Foretold, Comment to L44-45.

Although the vocabulary in L1-2 resembles GR and HR for Temple’s Destruction Foretold, L44-45, the things that begin to happen that should signal Jesus’ listeners to take courage are best understood as the signs, described in Son of Man’s Coming, that indicate that the times of the Gentiles’ trampling of Jerusalem have come to an end.[18] The dousing of the heavenly luminaries and the falling of the stars rightly terrify the Gentiles, since these calamities signify that the current world order, which empowered the Gentile empires to dominate the earth, is coming to an end. But to those who are oppressed and exploited by the current world order, signs of its collapse are an occasion for hopeful celebration.

L3 ἀνακύψατε καὶ ἐπάρατε (Luke 21:28). The one time the verb ἀνακύπτειν (anakūptein, “to bend upward,” “to straighten up,” “to raise the head”) occurs in LXX as the translation of a Hebrew phrase, that phrase is נָשָׂא רֹאשׁ (nāsā’ ro’sh, “raise the head”; Job 10:15).[19] For this reason we initially considered whether ἀνακύψατε (anakūpsate, “straighten yourselves up”) might be a redactional insertion in L3, since the very next phrase, ἐπάρατε τὰς κεφαλὰς ὑμῶν (eparate tas kefalas hūmōn), means “raise your heads.” But elsewhere in the Gospels ἀνακύπτειν usually conveys the meaning “to straighten up” or “to change to an upright position” (Luke 13:11; John 8:7, 10), and Jesus’ encouragement to straighten up appears to echo the lover’s urging of his beloved to rouse herself in Song 2:10. Should we then retain ἐπάρατε τὰς κεφαλὰς ὑμῶν (“raise your heads”), which has no counterpart in Song 2:10? We can see no reason for an editor to have added this phrase, and in one rabbinic interpretation of Song 2:10-13 a similar action, uncovering the head, is ascribed to the righteous (see below), so it seems likely that both actions—“straighten up” and “raise your heads”—are glosses on “arouse yourself” in Song 2:10.

הִזָּקְפוּ וּשְׂאוּ (HR). A possible reconstruction of ἀνακύπτειν (anakūptein, “to bend upward,” “to straighten up,” “to raise the head”) is קָם (qām, “stand up,” “arise”), the verb that appears in Song 2:10. It may be, however, that an alternative to קָם is warranted, both because a more common verb such as ἀναστῆναι (anastēnai, “to stand up”)[20] or ἐγείρειν (egeirein, “to arise”)[21] would be a more usual translation of קָם and because it appears that Jesus was not directly quoting Song 2:10 but giving a midrashic interpretation of the Song of Songs passage, so it was not always necessary for Jesus to use the exact vocabulary of Song 2:10-13.[22] Closer to the meaning of ἀνακύπτειν is נִזְקַף (nizqaf, “straighten oneself up,” “be put up”), examples of which we find in the following story:

מעשה בר′ ישמעאל ור′ אלעזר בן עזריה שהיו שרויין במקום אחד והיה ר′ ישמעאל מוטה ור′ אלעזר בן עזריה זקוף הגיע זמן קרית שמע נזקף ר′ ישמעאל והטה ר′ אלעזר בן עזריה אמ′ לו ר′ ישמעאל מה זה אלעזר אמ′ לו ישמעאל אחי לאחד או′ לו מפני מה זקנך מגודל והוא או′ להם יהיה כנגד המשחיתים אני שהייתי זקוף הטיתי ואת שהייתה מוטה נזקפתה

An anecdote concerning Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, who were staying in one place, and Rabbi Ishmael was reclining, and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was upright. When the time for the reciting of the Shema arrived, Rabbi Ishmael raised himself up [נִזְקַף], and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah reclined. Rabbi Ishmael said to him, “What is this, Eleazar?” He said to him, “Ishmael, my brother, [it is similar] to one to whom they say, ‘Why is your beard so long?’ and he says to them, ‘To oppose the destroyers.’ I, who was upright, reclined, and you, who were reclining, raised yourself up [נִזְקַפְתָּה].” (t. Ber. 1:4 [Vienna MS]; cf. Sifre Deut. §34 [ed. Finkelstein, 62])

The anecdote above considers the implications of the words וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ (ūveshochbechā ūveqūmechā, “and when you lie down and when you arise”) in Deut. 6:7, from which the mandate to recite the Shema in the evening and in the morning is derived. The question underlying the different postures assumed by Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah is whether “when you lie down and when you arise” must be taken literally, such that the evening Shema must be recited in a recumbent position, while the morning Shema must be recited while standing erect, or whether “when you lie down and when you arise” refers not to one’s posture but to the times when lying down and getting up (evening and morning) are the usual occurrence. Thus, נִזְקַף in the rabbinic anecdote correlates with קָם in the scriptural text. Given this correlation between קָם and נִזְקַף, we believe the latter is a good option for HR.[23]

On reconstructing ἐπαίρειν (epairein, “to lift up,” “to raise up”) with נָשָׂא (nāsā’, “lift,” “raise”), see A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing, Comment to L2-3. Note that the LXX translators rendered נָשָׂא in the command “Lift up your heads, O ye gates” in Psalm 24, expressed as שְׂאוּ שְׁעָרִים רָאשֵׁיכֶם (se’ū she‘ārim roshēchem; Ps. 24:7, 9), with the verb αἴρειν (airein, “to lift,” “to raise”), of which ἐπαίρειν is a compound form.

Despite the strong evidence in support of our reconstruction, two reasons make it tempting for us to adopt וְגַלּוּ (vegalū, “and uncover”) instead of וּשְׂאוּ (ūse’ū, “and lift up”) for HR. First, as we noted above, there is a rabbinic tradition that associates the uncovering of the head with Song 2:10-13. That tradition reads as follows:

קוּמִי לָךְ רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי לָךְ, אָמַר לְפָנָיו רִבּוֹן הָעוֹלָמִים אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה אָמַרְתָּ לָנוּ לְהִשְׁתַּעְבֵּד וַעֲדַיִן לֹא שָׁלֵמוּ, אֲמַר לֵהּ כְּבָר שָׁלֵמוּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר כִּי הִנֵּה הַסְּתָיו עָבָר מִיָּד גִּלּוּ הַצֵּדִיקִים אֶת רָאשֵׁיהֶם שֶׁהָיָה מְכֻסֶּה שֶׂנֶאֱמַר הַנִּצָּנִים נִרְאוּ בָאָרֶץ אֵלּוּ הֵן שִׁבְטוֹ שֶׁל לֵוִי שֶׁהָיוּ צַדִּיקִים כֻּלָּן…כֵּיוָן שֶׁרָאָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא כָּךְ אָמַר עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ, הִגִּיעַ זְמָן שֶׁל לְוִיִּם לוֹמָר לְפָנַי שִׁירִים וּמִזְמוֹרִים, דָּבָר אַחֵר עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ כֵּיוָן שֶׁשָּׁמַע הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁאָמְרוּ אֶת הַשִּׁירָה אָמַר קוֹל הַתּוֹר נִשְׁמַע בְּאַרְצֵנוּ, שֶׁשָּׁמַע קוֹלָן שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּזְכוּת אַבְרָהָם שֶׁהִקְרִיב תּוֹר וְגוֹזָל מַה כְּתִיב אַחֲרָיו הַתְּאֵנָה חָנְטָה פַגֶּיהָ אֵלּוּ הַצַּדִּיקִים וְהַיְשָׁרִים, וְהַגְּפָנִים סְמָדָר נָתְנוּ רֵיחַ אֵלּוּ הַבֵּינוֹנִים שֶׁעָשׂוּ תְּשׁוּבָה, מִכָּאן וְאֵילֵךְ קוּמִי לָךְ רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי לָךְ

Arouse yourself, my beloved, my beauty, and go [Song 2:10]. He [i.e., Moses—DNB and JNT] said before him, “Master of the worlds, you said there were four hundred years for us to be enslaved, and they are still not complete.” He [i.e., God—DNB and JNT] said to him, “They are already complete,” as it is said, For behold, the winter is past [Song 2:11]. Immediately the righteous uncovered their heads [גִּלּוּ הַצֵּדִיקִים אֶת רָאשֵׁיהֶם], which they used to cover, as it is said, the flowers appear in the land [Song 2:12]. These are the [members of the] tribe of Levi, all of whom were righteous. …When the Holy One, blessed be he, saw this he said, The time of singing has arrived [Song 2:12]—The time of the Levites to recite before me songs and psalms has arrived. Another interpretation: The time of singing has arrived [Song 2:12]. When the Holy One, blessed be he, heard Israel as they recited the song [at the Red Sea] he said, The voice of the turtledove is heard in our land [Song 2:12], for he heard the voice of Israel by the merit of Abraham, who offered a turtledove and a pigeon. What is written thereafter? The fig tree forms its green figs [Song 2:13]: these are the righteous and the upright. And the flowering vines give their scent [Song 2:13]: these are the average folk who did repentance. Henceforth, Arouse yourself, my beloved, my beauty, and go [Song 2:13]. (Exod. Rab. 15:1 [ed. Merkin, 5:161-162])

This midrash relates Song 2:10-13 to Israel’s redemption from Egypt. According to this source, the redemption took place because of Abraham’s merit, because of the outstanding virtue of the Levites, and because of the willingness of the rest of Israel to repent. In response to the good news that the winter (i.e., term of Israel’s enslavement) was over, the righteous uncovered their heads like flowers opening up in the spring. Covering one’s head was a sign of mourning (Semaḥot 10:9-10). The uncovering of the heads of the righteous was probably intended as a sign that the time of mourning had passed and a new era of rejoicing had dawned. Just as such an action was appropriate when Moses shared the good news with Israel that its redemption had arrived, so uncovering one’s head would be appropriate when signs appeared indicating that the times of the Gentiles’ trampling of Jerusalem were complete.

A turtledove (Streptopelia turtur) photographed in Israel by David King. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The other reason why reconstructing with וְגַלּוּ (“and uncover”) is attractive is that it forms a pleasing wordplay: גַּלּוּ אֶת רָאשֵׁיכֶם שֶׁהִגִּיעָה גְּאֻלַּתְכֶם (“Lift up [galū] your heads, because your redemption [ge’ulatchem] has arrived”). Since another wordplay appears to be embedded in the parable and its interpretation (see below), it is not unreasonable to suppose that a different wordplay might also be embedded in Luke 21:28, which the parable illustrates.

Despite the attractiveness of adopting “uncover your heads” for HR, it is difficult to explain how or why a Greek translator would have rendered “uncover your heads” as “raise your heads.” It therefore seems preferable to adopt a Hebrew reconstruction that can account for the Greek text of Luke 21:28.

L4 אֶת רָאשֵׁיכֶם (HR). On reconstructing κεφαλή (kefalē, “head”) with רֹאשׁ (ro’sh, “head”), see Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple, Comment to L14.

L5 ὅτι ἐγγίζει (GR). Our Greek reconstruction of the Fig Tree parable entails a slight modification of Luke’s wording in L5. The author of Luke used the conjunction διότι (dioti, “because”) in L5, but this conjunction never occurs in Mark or Matthew and is rare even in the Gospel of Luke, occurring only 3xx (Luke 1:13; 2:7; 21:28). On the other hand, διότι occurs 5xx in Acts (Acts 13:35; 18:10 [2xx]; 20:26; 22:18), mainly in the second half of Acts, where the author of Luke’s personal writing style is especially pronounced. It seems likely, therefore, that the few instances of διότι in Luke’s Gospel are redactional. In view of this, we have replaced Luke’s διότι with the related but far more common ὅτι (hoti, “that,” “because”) in GR.

שֶׁהִגִּיעָה (HR). On reconstructing ἐγγίζειν (engizein, “to approach,” “to draw near”) with הִגִּיעַ (higia‘, “reach,” “arrive”), see Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, Comment to L105. We also reconstructed ἐγγίζειν with הִגִּיעַ in Luke 21:20 (Yerushalayim Besieged, L5). Reconstructing ἐγγίζειν with הִגִּיעַ in the Fig Tree parable is doubly appropriate because of the likelihood that “your redemption has arrived” is an interpretation of עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ (‘ēt hazāmir higia‘, “the time of singing/pruning has arrived”; Song 2:12) and because the phrase הִגִּיעַ גְּאֻלָּה (higia‘ ge’ulāh, “redemption has arrived”) is attested in rabbinic sources, whereas the alternative גְּאֻלָּה קְרוֹבָה (ge’ulāh qerōvāh, “redemption [is] near”) is apparently unknown in ancient Hebrew sources.

We have already cited one example of a phrase containing the words הִגִּיעַ (“arrive”) and גְּאֻלָּה (“redemption”):

קוּמִי לָךְ רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי לָךְ שֶׁהֲרֵי הִגִּיעַ קֵץ הַגְּאֻלָּה

Arouse yourself, my beloved, my beauty, and go [Song 2:13]—for behold, the time of redemption has arrived [הִגִּיעַ קֵץ הַגְּאֻלָּה]. (Num. Rab. 15:12 [ed. Merkin, 10:147])[24]

Another example occurs in a midrashic treatment of a passage in Ezekiel:

וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים—שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה בְיָדָם מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים שֶׁיִּגָּאֲלוּ בִּשְׁבִילָם, וְכֵן הוּא מְפֹרָשׁ עַל יְדֵי יְחֶזְקֵאל רְבָבָה כְּצֶמַח הַשָּׂדֶה נְתַתִּיךְ וַתִּרְבִּי וַתִּגְדְּלִי וַתָּבֹאִי בַּעֲדִי עֲדָיִים שָׁדַיִם נָכֹנוּ וּשְׂעָרֵךְ צִמֵּחַ וְאַתְּ עֵרֹם וְעֶרְיָה—לֹא הָיָה צָרִיךְ לוֹמַר אֶלָּא וּשְׂעָרֵךְ צִמֵּחַ וְאַחַר כָּךְ שָׁדַיִם נָכֹנוּ, שֶׁקֹּדֶם בָּא סִמָּן הַתַּחְתּוֹן מִן הָעֶלְיוֹן, אֶלָּא מַהוּ שָׁדַיִם נָכֹנוּ זֶה משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן שֶׁהָיוּ נְכוֹנִים לְגָאֳלָם דִּכְתִיב שְׁנֵי שָׁדַיִךְ כִּשְׁנֵי עֳפָרִים וּשְׂעָרֵךְ צִמֵּחַ, הִגִּיעַ הַקֵּץ שֶׁל גְּאֻלָּה, וְאַתְּ עֵרֹם וְעֶרְיָה, בְּלֹא מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים, לְכָךְ נֶאֱמַר וַיֵּדַע אֱלֹהִים

And God saw [Exod. 2:25] that they did not have any good deeds on account of which they should be redeemed. And so it was explained by Ezekiel: I made you flourish like seedlings of the field, and you increased and grew and came to full maturation: your breasts were formed and your pubic hair grew, but you were naked and bare [Ezek. 16:7]. Wouldn’t he rather have to say “your pubic hair grew” and after that “your breasts were formed,” for the lower sign [of physical maturity—DNB and JNT] comes before the upper? Rather, what is [the meaning of—DNB and JNT] your breasts were formed [Ezek. 16:7]? This stands for Moses and Aaron, who were prepared to redeem them, as it is written, your two breasts are like two fawns [Song 4:5]. And your pubic hair grew [Ezek. 16:7]—the time of redemption has arrived [הִגִּיעַ הַקֵּץ שֶׁל גְּאֻלָּה]. But you were naked and bare [Ezek. 16:7]—without good deeds. Therefore it is said, And God knew [Exod. 2:25]. (Exod. Rab. 1:35 [ed. Merkin, 5:53])

A third example is found in a midrash on Moses’ burial:

וְלָמָה זָכָה משֶׁה שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא נִתְעַסֵּק עִמוֹ אֶלָּא בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיָּרַד לְמִצְרִיִם וְהִגִּיעָה גְּאֻלָּתָן שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל הָיוּ עֲסוּקִים בְּכֶסֶף וְזָהָב וּמשֶׁה הָיָה מְסַבֵּב אֶת הָעִיר וְיָגֵעַ שְׁלשָׁה יָמִים וּשְׁלשָׁה לֵילוֹת לִמְצוֹא אֲרוֹנוֹ שֶׁל יוֹסֵף שֶׁלֹּא הָיוּ יְכוֹלִים לָצֵאת מִמִצְרַיִם חוּץ מֲיּוֹסֵף

And why did Moses deserve that the Holy One, blessed be he, should concern himself with his burial? Because when he went down to Egypt and Israel’s redemption had arrived [וְהִגִּיעָה גְּאֻלָּתָן שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל] all Israel concerned itself with despoiling the gold and silver of the Egyptians, but Moses was going around the city and spent three days and three nights searching for Joseph’s coffin, for they could not go out from Egypt without Joseph. (Deut. Rab. 11:7 [ed. Merkin, 11:153])

While the above-cited examples pertain to Israel’s redemption from Egypt, the following example pertains to Israel’s final redemption:

שנו רבותינו בשעה שמלך המשיח נגלה בא ועומד על הגג של בית המקדש. והוא משמיע להם לישראל ואומר להם ענוים הגיע זמן גאולתכם

Our rabbis taught: When the anointed king [i.e., the Messiah—DNB and JNT] is revealed, he comes and stands on the roof of the Temple. And he proclaims to Israel and says to them, “You meek ones, the time of your redemption has arrived [הִגִּיעַ זְמַן גְּאוּלַּתְכֶם]!” (Pesikta Rabbati 36:2 [ed. Friedmann, 162a-b]; cf. Yalkut Shim‘oni §499)

Examples such as these provide ample evidence that הִגִּיעַ is the best choice for HR in L5.

L6 ἡ ἀπολύτρωσις ὑμῶν (GR). As we noted above in Comment to L1-6, the noun ἀπολύτρωσις (apolūtrōsis, “redemption,” “ransoming”)[25] is more likely to have come from Luke’s source than to be a product of Lukan redaction. We have therefore accepted Luke’s wording in L6 for GR without modification.

גְּאֻלַּתְכֶם (HR). Since the noun ἀπολύτρωσις occurs only once in LXX (Dan. 4:34), where the underlying text is Aramaic, and even in the Aramaic text there is no equivalent to ἀπολύτρωσις, we cannot cite LXX in support of our selection of גְּאֻלָּה (ge’ulāh, “redemption”) for HR. The phrase in Dan. 4:34 that includes ἀπολύτρωσις is of interest, however, because ὁ χρόνος μου τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως ἦλθε (ho chronos mou tēs apolūtrōseōs ēlthe, “my time of redemption came”) is nearly identical to the phrase הִגִּיעַ קֵץ/זְמַן גְּאֻלָּה (higia‘ qētz/zeman ge’ulāh, “a time of redemption has arrived”), which we encountered in the rabbinic sources cited above in Comment to L5. Those same sources prove that גְּאֻלָּה is the best option for reconstructing ἀπολύτρωσις in L6.[26]

Of whose redemption does Jesus speak in Luke 21:28? The Lukan context and the tone of the entire discourse indicate that Jesus spoke of the redemption of all Israel, not just his own followers.[27] As we recall, in Luke’s version of Jesus’ prophecy of destruction and redemption, the prophecy is addressed to the Jewish public (Luke 21:7), not just to the disciples as in Mark and Matthew. Moreover, at the heart of the prophecy Jesus expresses solidarity with his people, lamenting the fate of Jewish mothers and their children (Luke 21:23), the killing and deportation of Jerusalem’s inhabitants (Luke 21:24), and the desecration of the Holy City beneath the feet of its Gentile conquerors (ibid.) during the period of wrath against this people (Luke 21:23). Given his solidarity with Israel, the redemption of which Jesus speaks can hardly be anything less than the redemption of his entire people.

L7 καὶ εἶπεν (GR). Most scholars regard the transitional phrase καὶ εἶπεν παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς (kai eipen parabolēn avtois, “and he said a parable to them”) as redactional.[28] We, on the other hand, see no reason why καὶ εἶπεν παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς cannot be original. The phrase reverts easily to Hebrew, it has parallels in rabbinic sources, and similar introductions are connected to parables elsewhere in Luke.[29] We have accepted as original similar phrases in the Four Soils parable, L18-19 (Luke 8:4), and the Persistent Widow parable, L1 (Luke 18:1). Moreover, it is difficult to understand why the author of Luke would have wanted to interrupt Jesus’ seamless speech if no such transitional phrase had occurred in his source.[30] From the perspective of Lindsey’s hypothesis, it appears that the author of Mark regarded the removal of the transitional phrase as an improvement.[31] We have therefore accepted Luke’s wording in L7 for GR.

וַיִּמְשׁוֹל (HR). On reconstructing εἰπεῖν + παραβολή (eipein + parabolē, “to tell a parable”) as מָשַׁל מָשָׁל (māshal māshāl, “tell a parable”), see Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, Comment to L8-9.

L8-9 ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε (Mark 13:28). We have not found any parallels in rabbinic sources to the admonition to “learn a parable” found in Mark 13:28 and copied in Matt. 24:32, and this is hardly surprising, since parables were not the subject of study but an aid to understanding. Neither do fig trees, nor any other non-human subjects, teach parables.[32] Mark’s strange introduction to the Fig Tree parable may simply be an attempt to remove the transitional phrase “and he told them a parable” in order to maintain continuous speech.[33] But it is also possible that something else is going on in Mark, something that explains most, if not all, of the redactional changes the author of Mark made to Luke’s version of the Fig Tree parable.

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree, in Walters manuscript W.592. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It appears to us that the author of Mark reworked the Fig Tree parable into a description of an eschatological sign by making the parable refer back to the withered fig tree of Mark 11:12-14, 20-21. In that story the author of Mark describes how Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, was hungry. Spotting a fig tree with leaves, Jesus went to it to see if he could find anything in it to satisfy his hunger, but he found nothing except leaves, because it was not the time for figs. Jesus then pronounced a judgment on the fig tree, “No longer will anyone eat from you for this age” (Mark 11:14).[34] In Mark’s telling of the story, the possibility appears to remain open that people will enjoy its fruit in the age to come (cf. Mark 14:25), but in the present time the fig tree is dried up from the very roots (Mark 11:20). Mark’s version of the Fig Tree parable appears to describe the reversal of the judgment Jesus pronounced on the fig tree. From the fig tree—not a fig tree[35] —learn the lesson: when its branch becomes tender and puts out leaves, the disciples will know that the withered fig tree’s season for bearing fruit is near. In other words, when the dried-up fig tree comes back to life, Jesus’ listeners are to understand that the Son of Man’s coming is right at the door.

How did the author of Mark happen upon the idea that the miraculous rejuvenation of the withered fig tree would be a harbinger of the Son of Man’s coming? Aaron’s staff of dead wood had sprouted and borne fruit (Num. 17:23), so the miracle itself is not unprecedented. In addition, there are ancient Jewish and early Christian sources that mention trees as eschatological signs. According to one tradition attested in Second-Temple and early Christian writings, the bending over and straightening up of a tree of its own accord would serve as an eschatological sign (4QPseudo-Ezekiela [4Q385] 2 I, 10; Ep. Barn. 12:1),[36] while according to an apocalyptic source composed in the wake of the Temple’s destruction, it is predicted that a tree will bleed blood (4 Ezra 5:5). Given the expectation current in the first century that trees would manifest eschatological signs, the author of Mark’s reinterpretation of the Fig Tree parable as an eschatological sign is not all that surprising.[37]

If our understanding of Mark’s version of the Fig Tree parable is correct, then the Markan Jesus really did want his listeners to study the fig tree. Its revitalization would be a sign that the Son of Man was about to usher in the messianic age.

L10 παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς [λέγων] (GR). All three versions of the Fig Tree parable agree on the use of the noun παραβολή (parabolē, “parable”). While Triple Tradition agreement does not prove originality, since the author of Luke could have introduced an element that was picked up in Mark and passed along to Matthew, we have already stated our reasons in Comment to L7 for supposing that Luke’s “he told them a parable” is original. It is possible, however, that the author of Luke or the First Reconstructor before him omitted the participle λέγων (legōn, “saying”), which often follows εἶπεν (eipen, “he said’) when introducing direct speech. However, since λέγων is not necessary and there is no direct evidence for its presence,[38] we have placed λέγων within brackets.

לָהֶם מָשָׁל [לֵאמֹר] (HR). On reconstructing παραβολή (parabolē, “parable”) with מָשָׁל (māshāl, “parable,” “proverb,” “riddle”), see Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L19. The Fig Tree parable is not a classic story parable since it lacks a plot, but the term מָשָׁל was certainly broad enough to include the kind of illustration Jesus gave at the end of his prophecy of destruction and redemption. The rabbinic sages, who, like Jesus, were tradents of classic story parables, were capable of using the term מָשָׁל for simpler comparisons like the following:

מָשָׁל מָשְׁלוּ חֲכָמִ′ בָּאִשָׁה פַּגָה בּוֹחַל וְצַמָּל פַּגָה עוֹדָהּ תִינוֹקֵת בּוֹחַל אֵילּוּ יְמֵי הַנְּעוּרִים בָּזוֹ וּבָזוֹ אָבִיהָ זָכַּיי במְצִיאָתָהּ וּבְמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיהָ וּבְהֶפֶר נְדָרֶיהָ צֵמָּל כָּל שֶׁבָּגָרָה וְאֵין לְאָבִיהָ בָה רְשׁוּת

The Sages told a parable [מָשָׁל] concerning a woman: a green fig, a ripening fig and a fully ripe fig. A green fig: she is still an infant. A ripening fig: these are the days of her youth. In both of these [stages] her father has rights to whatever she finds and to the work of her hands and to annul her vows. A fully ripe fig: throughout her womanhood her father has no authority over her. (m. Nid. 5:7)

This rabbinic comparison has even less of a plot than Jesus’ Fig Tree illustration, but this did not prevent the sages from using the term מָשָׁל. Since the Fig Tree illustration is designated as a παραβολή in Luke 21:29, since the term מָשָׁל was broad enough to include Jesus’ Fig Tree illustration, and since Jesus’ Fig Tree illustration does not fit our criterion for the subset of parables we have termed “similes,”[39] we feel justified in referring to Jesus’ Fig Tree illustration as a parable.[40]

L11 ἰδοὺ ἡ συκῆ (GR). An admonition to “look” at something, in this case a fig tree, is not a typical way to open a parable. Neither can the admonition in Luke 21:29 be explained as corresponding to something in Song 2:10-13, upon which the parable is based. There is, however, an interjection, הִנֵּה (hinēh, “Behold!”), in Song 2:11, rendered ἰδού (idou, “Behold!”) in LXX, which might have inspired some such interjection at the opening of Jesus’ parable. Synoptic parallels show that Luke’s Gospel exhibits a slight aversion toward ἰδού, which it often omits or replaces.[41] It would have been easy for either the First Reconstructor or the author of Luke to change ἰδοὺ ἡ συκῆ (idou hē sūkē, “Behold the fig tree!”) to ἴδετε τὴν συκῆν (idete tēn sūkēn, “Look at the fig tree!”), and, as our reconstruction shows, this is what we suppose happened.

הֲרֵי הַתְּאֵנָה (HR). The interjection in Song 2:11 is הִנֵּה, but for HR we have used the Mishnaic הֲרֵי (ha, “Behold!”), which supplanted the earlier interjection.[42] It is possible, however, that Jesus would have used the biblical הִנֵּה as a signal that he was alluding to a scriptural passage.

On reconstructing συκῆ (sūkē, “fig tree”) with תְּאֵנָה (te’ēnāh, “fig [fruit],” “fig tree”), see Son of Man’s Coming, Comment to L11.

A fig bud and leaves on the twig of a fig tree. Photographed in Israel by udi Steinwell. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Many scholars have struggled to explain why Jesus singled out the fig tree for his illustration. Some suggested that Jesus pointed to a specific fig tree nearby,[43] but while such an explanation could work in the Markan and Matthean setting of Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives, it does not fit the setting in Luke, where Jesus delivers his prophecy while on the Temple Mount, where no trees were located. Others have suggested that the reason Jesus chose the fig tree for his example was that figs are among the few trees in the region that shed their leaves.[44] But leaves are not mentioned in Luke’s version of the parable and were probably not the parable’s original focus (see below). We believe Jesus’ reference to the fig tree is due to his use of Song 2:10-13 and its imagery, including the fig tree’s putting forth of fruit, to describe the future redemption of Israel.[45]

L12 καὶ πάντα τὰ δένδρα (Luke 21:29). The First Reconstructor, too, appears to have been unaware of the reason Jesus singled out the fig tree for his parable, and therefore added to his version “and all the trees.” Similar examples of generalization occur elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel,[46] especially in FR pericopae using the formula καί + πᾶς [+ ὁ] + noun to expand a narrow category into one that is more inclusive. Thus we find καὶ πᾶν λάχανον (kai pan lachanon, “and every garden herb”; Luke 11:42 [cf. Matt. 23:23]) in Luke’s FR version of Yeshua Critiques Contemporary Leaders and καὶ πάντας τοὺς προφήτας (kai pantas tous profētas, “and all the prophets”; Luke 13:28 [cf. Matt. 8:11-12]) in Luke’s FR version of Coming From All Directions,[47] in addition to καὶ πάντα τὰ δένδρα (kai panta ta dendra, “and all the trees”; Luke 21:29 [cf. Matt. 24:32 ∥ Mark 13:28]) in Luke’s FR-derived Fig Tree parable. Thus, we attribute the addition of “and all the trees” in Luke 21:29 to the First Reconstructor’s redactional activity.[48] We have accordingly omitted the contents of L12 from GR and HR.

The author of Mark’s omission of Luke’s “and all the trees” can be explained by his transformation of the Fig Tree parable into an eschatological sign, which we discussed above in Comment to L8-9. The author of Mark was not interested in fig trees in general, much less all the trees. He wanted his audience to study one fig tree in particular, the fig tree that dried up when it failed to provide Jesus with fruit. The miraculous revival of that tree would be a sign that the dawning of a new age, to be ushered in at the Son of Man’s coming, was at hand.

L13 ὅταν προβάλῃ (GR). All three Synoptic Gospels agree on the words ὅταν (hotan, “when”) and ἤδη (ēdē, “already,” “now”), but we believe only the former is original. The ὅταν in L13, which is part of the parable, corresponds to the ὅταν in L21, which is part of the application. By contrast, ἤδη, which in Luke’s version of the parable occurs twice (L13, L18), does not occur at all in the application. Since the use of ἤδη cannot be characterized as especially Lukan,[49] we presume that it must have been the First Reconstructor who added ἤδη to the Fig Tree parable in L13 and L18.

On the other hand, Luke’s fingerprint is evident in the plural form of the verb προβάλλειν (proballein, “to put forward”). The author of Luke was forced to make this verb plural on account of his insertion of “and all the trees” in L12. We have therefore changed Luke’s προβάλωσιν (probalōsin, “they might put forward”) to προβάλῃ (probalē, “he/she/it might put forward”) in GR.

It might be supposed that it was not merely the plural form of the verb but also Luke’s selection of προβάλλειν that is redactional, since the Markan and Matthean versions of the parable have ἐκφύειν (ekfūein, “to generate,” “to produce”), but two considerations make this supposition unlikely. First, Luke’s use of προβάλλειν with reference to trees without an object (e.g., “fruit”) is unusual, perhaps even unprecedented.[50] The author of Luke certainly knew how to write proper Greek, so Luke’s unidiomatic use of προβάλλειν demands an explanation. As we will see below, Luke’s poor grammar can be explained as translation Greek, since Hebrew has a verb corresponding to προβάλλειν that can be intransitive. Second, Mark’s expansive description of the fig tree’s branches growing tender and the production of leaves is best explained as an attempt to reinterpret the Fig Tree parable as an eschatological sign (see above, Comment to L8-9). That this Markan expansion is secondary is shown from the fact that neither the fig tree’s leaves nor its branches are mentioned in Song 2:13, and these Markan additions tend to obscure the allusion to the Song of Songs passage upon which the Fig Tree parable is based. Of course, if a Hebrew substratum is poking through the surface of Luke’s Greek, and if Mark’s parallel obscures the original foundations of Jesus’ parable, these are strong indications that the author of Luke has preserved the wording of his pre-synoptic source.

בִּזְמָן שֶׁחָנְטָה (HR). On reconstructing ὅταν (hotan, “when”) with -בִּזְמָן שֶׁ (bizmān she-, “in a/the time that”), see above, Comment to L1-2.

Although the LXX translators never rendered חָנַט (ḥānaṭ, “embalm,” “form fruit”) with προβάλλειν (proballein, “to put forward”), they had only limited opportunity to do so. Of the four instances of חָנַט in the Hebrew Scriptures, three occur with the meaning “embalm” (Gen. 50:2 [2xx], 26). On the only occasion where חָנַט means “form fruit,” the LXX translators rendered חָנַט as ἐκφέρειν (ekferein, “to carry out,” “to produce”; Song 2:13). Nevertheless, that חָנַט is a reasonable reconstruction of Luke’s προβάλλειν is shown from the fact that Aquila’s translation of Song 2:13 rendered חָנַט with προβάλλειν.[51] Although in Song 2:13 חָנַט is transitive, taking the noun פַּג (pag, “green fig”) as its object, חָנַט could also be used without an object, as the examples in the following rabbinic discussion illustrate:

תני רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר אילן שחנט קודם חמשה עשר בשבט מתעשר לשעבר…תמן אמרין אילן שחנט קודם ראש השנה של עולם מתעשר לשעבר ולאחר ר″ה של עולם מתעשר לבא התיב רבי יודן בר פדיא קומי רבי יונה הרי חרובין הרי הן חונטין קודם ר″ה של עולם והן מתעשרין לבא

It was taught [in a baraita]: Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, “A tree that produced [אִילָן שֶׁחָנַט] before the fifteenth of Shevat is tithed for [the year] that is past.” …There [i.e., in Babylonia—DNB and JNT] they say, “A tree that produced [אִילָן שֶׁחָנַט] before Rosh HaShanah is tithed for [the year] that is past, but after Rosh HaShanah it is tithed for the coming year.” Rabbi Yudan bar Padya objected in the presence of Rabbi Yonah, “Behold the carob trees! They produce [חוֹנְטִין] before Rosh HaShanah, but they are tithed for the coming year!” (y. Shev. 5:1 [13a])

This intransitive use of חָנַט could explain Luke’s unidiomatic use of προβάλλειν if we suppose that Luke 21:30 reflects a Greek translation of an underlying Hebrew text. When speaking in Hebrew Jesus did not need to supply חָנַט with an object; it was understood that he referred to the fig tree’s production of figs. This would be doubly the case if Jesus’ listeners caught the allusion to Song 2:13. But when Jesus’ words were translated into literal Greek, the implied reference to fruit was lost. It may be that the First Reconstructor did not supply an object for προβάλλειν because he understood the original meaning of the parable and therefore he did not sense the absence of an object as keenly as a less informed reader would. The author of Luke evidently did not understand that the reference was to the production of figs, since otherwise he would not have added “and all the trees,” but his overall fidelity to his sources can account for his unidiomatic Greek. Mark’s expansion in L14-16 shows that an author less committed to preserving the wording of his sources was willing to fill the gap he perceived in Luke’s version of Jesus’ parable.

Leaves and fruit of a fig tree photographed in Jerusalem by יעל י. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L14-16 ὁ κλάδος αὐτῆς ἁπαλὸς γένηται καὶ ἐκφύῃ τὰ φύλλα (Mark 13:28). While the author of Mark perceived a gap in Luke’s version of Jesus’ parable, he did not possess the requisite knowledge to correctly fill it. Not realizing that Jesus’ parable was based on a passage from Song of Songs, and not grasping that Luke’s intransitive προβάλλειν reflected חָנַט (“form fruit”) in the underlying Hebrew text, the author of Mark reinterpreted the Fig Tree parable as an eschatological sign (see above, Comment to L8-9). It is quite true that the branches of fig trees,[52] which are bare in winter, sprout leaves in early spring,[53] but it was not the author of Mark’s intention to describe what happens to fig trees in general. Rather, it was the author of Mark’s intention to describe the reversal of the withering of the fig tree that failed to provide Jesus with fruit on his way to Jerusalem. The leafless fig tree that had been dried up from the roots would miraculously grow tender to the ends of its branches and put out leaves as a sign that the present age was quickly fading away and the new age, in which the fig tree would be permitted to bear fruit once more, was at hand.

The original Fig Tree parable did not refer to the production of leaves or the tenderness of the fig tree’s branches. These details, which the author of Mark supplied, had the effect of obscuring for later readers and exegetes the parable’s basis on Song 2:10-13.

The author of Matthew accepted all of Mark’s wording in L14-16, but introduced slight variations in word order.

L17 βλέποντες ἀφ᾿ ἑαυτῶν (Luke 21:30). The style of Luke’s wording in L17, with a participle (βλέποντες [blepontes, “seeing”]) subordinate to the main verb (γινώσκετε [ginōskete, “you know”]), is un-Hebraic, and the components of L17, “seeing” and “by yourself,” have no parallel in the parable’s application.[54] We suspect, therefore, that Luke’s wording in L17 was introduced by either the First Reconstructor or the author of Luke himself.

It is possible that it is only the participle βλέποντες that is secondary, since ἀφ᾿ ἑαυτῶν (af heavtōn, “from yourselves,” “by yourselves”) can be reconstructed in Hebrew as מֵעַצְמְכֶם (mē‘atzmechem, “from yourselves,” “by yourselves”).[55] Examples of מֵעֶצֶם + suffix with the sense “by oneself” are attested in rabbinic sources, for instance:

ולך תהיה צדקה מעצמך אתה עושה צדקה

…and for you it will be righteousness [Deut. 24:13]. By yourself you make righteousness. (Sifre Deut. §277 [ed. Finkelstein, 295])

כי באתי אל הארץ אשר נשבע ה′ לאבותינו…רבי שמעון אומר פרט לעבר הירדן שנטלתו מעצמך

…that I have come to the land that the LORD swore to our fathers [Deut. 26:3]…. Rabbi Shimon says, “This excludes the far side of the Jordan, which you captured by yourself [מעצמך].” (Sifre Deut. §299 [ed. Finkelstein, 318])

But even if Luke’s ἀφ᾿ ἑαυτῶν could be reconstructed as מֵעַצְמְכֶם, we would still have to explain why there is no equivalent to “by yourselves” in the application.[56] The imbalance that “by yourselves” in L17 creates is a good indication that Luke’s ἀφ᾿ ἑαυτῶν is redactional.[57]

L18 γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς (GR). As with the ἤδη (“already”) in L13, we attribute Luke’s ἤδη in L18 to the First Reconstructor’s redactional activity. Otherwise, all three versions are in full agreement in L18, and we have adopted their wording for GR.

אַתֶּם יוֹדְעִים שֶׁהִגִּיעַ (HR). On reconstructing γινώσκειν (ginōskein, “to know”) with יָדַע (yāda‘, “know”), see Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L6.

Although there is a slight variation between the use of the verb ἐγγίζειν (engizein, “to approach”) in Luke 21:28 (L5) and the adverb ἐγγύς (engūs, “near”) in the parable (Luke 21:30; L18) and its application (Luke 21:31; L22), we think it is best to reconstruct ἐγγύς in the same way as ἐγγίζειν, namely with הִגִּיעַ (higia‘, “arrive,” “reach”). In part, this is because it makes sense for the vocabulary to remain consistent throughout the pericope, and in part, our reconstruction rests on the fact that whereas we have found examples of הִגִּיעַ הַקַּיִץ (higia‘ haqayitz, “the summer/fruit harvest has arrived”), we have not found examples of הַקַּיִץ קָרוֹב (haqayitz qārōv, “the summer/fruit harvest is near”), קָרוֹב (qārōv, “near”) being the best alternative reconstruction for ἐγγύς (“near”).[58] An example of הִגִּיעַ הַקַּיִץ is found in the Tosefta:

הנודר מן הקיץ בגליל וירד לעמקים אף על פי שהגיע הקיץ בעמקים אסור עד שיגיע הקיץ בגליל

If someone in [the highlands of—DNB and JNT] the Galilee vows, “…from the fruit harvest…,” and he went down to the valleys, then even though the fruit harvest arrived [שֶׁהִגִּיעַ הַקַּיִץ] in the valleys, he is constrained until the fruit harvest arrives in [the highlands of—DNB and JNT] the Galilee. (t. Ned. 4:7 [ed. Zuckermandel, 279]; cf. b. Ned. 62b)

L19 τὸ θέρος ἐστίν (GR). The Matthean, Markan and Lukan versions are in agreement in L19 except for Matthew’s omission of ἐστίν (estin, “he/she/it is”). Since ἐστίν appears in all three versions of the application (L22), it is likely that Matthew’s omission of ἐστίν is redactional.

הַקַּיִץ (HR). The noun θέρος (theros, “summer,” “summer fruit”) occurs 8xx in LXX; in all but two of these instances θέρος serves as the translation of קַיִץ (qayitz, “summer,” “summer fruit”).[59] We also find that the LXX translators rendered קַיִץ more often with θέρος than with any other Greek word.[60] These facts give us reasonable confidence regarding our selection in L19 for HR.

Replica of the Gezer Calendar on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The Gezer Calendar is a 10th-cent. B.C.E. inscription in Paleo-Hebrew text that describes the agricultural cycle. The bottom line reads 𐤉𐤓𐤇 𐤒𐤑‎ (in modern characters: ירח קץ, “a month of summer fruit/harvest”). Photographed by
yoav dothan. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Nevertheless, doubt remains concerning the meaning of θέρος/קַיִץ in the Fig Tree parable. Since both terms can refer either to the fruit or to the season,[61] which meaning is preferable in the present context? We think the meaning “summer” is intended, since “the summer has arrived” in Jesus’ parable corresponds to “the winter is past” in Song 2:11.[62] Also, “summer,” being a period of time, makes for a better parallel than “fruit” to “time [of redemption],” which we believe was the original wording in L23 of the Fig Tree parable (see below, Comment to L23).

The Hebrew noun קַיִץ can be used in the broad sense of “summer” (cf., e.g., Gen. 8:22; Zech. 14:8; Ps. 74:17; 4QJubileesa [4Q216] V, 8), which covers half the year (≈ April-September),[63] or in the narrower sense of “season of the fruit harvest” (≈ July-August).[64] In its broader sense it is correct to say that when fig trees form fruits, summer has arrived.

L20 οὕτως (GR). Despite their presence in all three Synoptic Gospels, we believe the words καὶ ὑμεῖς (kai hūmeis, “also you”) are not original to the Fig Tree parable. These words in their present position do not revert easily to Hebrew, and elsewhere we have found the phrase καὶ ὑμεῖς to be the product of Lukan redaction.[65] We have therefore omitted “also you” from GR and HR.

כָּךְ (HR). On reconstructing οὕτως (houtōs, “thus,” “so”) with כָּךְ (kāch, “thus,” “so”), see Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, Comment to L35.[66] Flusser noted that just as many of the applications of Jesus’ parables are introduced with οὕτως, so the nimshalim (“applications”) of rabbinic parables are typically introduced with כָּךְ.[67] This philological observation gave Flusser greater confidence in the authenticity of the applications given to so many of Jesus’ parables in the Gospels. In this regard, as in many other respects, Flusser’s approach to Jesus’ parables went counter to the approaches championed by previous scholarship that had studied Jesus’ parables in isolation from their closest literary relations, the parables of the sages.

L21 ὅταν ἴδητε ταῦτα (GR). In L21 Luke and Mark are in complete verbal agreement. Matthew differs from Mark and Luke by adding πάντα (panta, “all”) before ταῦτα (tavta, “these [things]”) and by omitting γινόμενα (ginomena, “being,” “happening”). Probably Matthew’s addition of πάντα is redactional, since we have found the author of Matthew adding πάντα to ταῦτα elsewhere in Jesus’ discourse (see Temple’s Destruction Foretold, L14, and Tumultuous Times, L14), and since Matthew’s πάντα ταῦτα here in L21 paves the way for another πάντα ταῦτα in the very next verse (Matt. 24:34), this one parallel to ταῦτα πάντα in Mark 13:30.[68] On the other hand, Matthew’s omission of γινόμενα could be genuine, since neither γινόμενα in GR nor a corresponding נַעֲשִׂים (na‘asim, “being done”) in HR are strictly necessary. Either the author of Luke or the First Reconstructor could have added γινόμενα (“being,” “happening”) to correspond to γίνεσθαι (ginesthai, “to be,” “to happen”) in L2.

בִּזְמָן שֶׁאַתֶּם רוֹאִים אֶת אֵלּוּ (HR). On reconstructing ὅταν (hotan, “when”) with -בִּזְמָן שֶׁ (bizmān she-, “in a/the time that”), see above, Comment to L1-2.

On reconstructing ἰδεῖν (idein, “to see”) with רָאָה (rā’āh, “see”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L10.

On reconstructing ταῦτα (tavta, “these [things]”) with אֵלּוּ (’ēlū, “these [things]”), see above, Comment to L1-2.

To what does “these things” in L21 refer? In Luke’s version the antecedent of “these things” is the same as in L2, where “these things” referred to the collapse of the cosmic order described in Son of Man’s Coming. This cosmic collapse would signify that the current world order, in which the Gentiles dominated Israel, was being dismantled (see above, Comment to L1-2). In Mark the antecedent of “these things” is probably different. As we discussed above in Comment to L8-9, the author of Mark believed Jesus wanted his listeners to study a particular fig tree, the one that had withered when Jesus pronounced a judgment upon it (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21). This fig tree would revive when the time approached for it to bear figs once more, at the dawning of the coming age. “These things” in Mark’s version of the parable thus refers to the fig tree’s becoming tender to the ends of its branches, when formerly it had been dried up from the roots. “These things” refers to the budding of the fig tree that had been denuded of leaves ever since Jesus had pronounced the fig tree’s doom, that none should eat of it again in the present age. Of course, we believe Mark’s transformation of the Fig Tree parable into an eschatological sign to be a secondary development. In the pre-synoptic versions of Jesus’ parable the antecedent of “these things” was the same as in Luke.

L22 γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν (GR). There is complete Lukan-Markan-Matthean verbal agreement in L22, and since their wording reverts easily to Hebrew, nothing prevents us from accepting their wording for GR.

דְּעוּ שֶׁהִגִּיעַ (HR). On reconstructing γινώσκειν (ginōskein, “to know”) with יָדַע (yāda‘, “know”), see above, Comment to L18. The form γινώσκετε (ginōskete) can either be an indicative (“you know”) or an imperative (“Know!”). Our reconstruction presumes that unlike the γινώσκετε in L18, the γινώσκετε in L22 is imperatival.[69]

On reconstructing ἐγγύς (engūs, “near”) with הִגִּיעַ (higia‘, “arrive,” “reach”), see above, Comment to L18.

Compare our reconstruction of γνῶτε ὅτι ἤγγικεν ἡ ἐρήμωσις αὐτῆς (“know that her [i.e., Jerusalem’s] desolation has approached”) with דְּעוּ שֶׁהִגִּיעַ חָרְבָּנָהּ (“know that her destruction has arrived”) in Yerushalayim Besieged, L5-6. Just as Jerusalem’s destruction was assured, so too was Israel’s ultimate redemption.

A first-century C.E. fresco from Villa Poppaea in Italy depicting a basket of figs. In Amos 8:1-2 the prophet has a vision of a basket of figs (קַיִץ), which he is told symbolizes the end (קֵץ). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L23 ὁ καιρός (GR). Many scholars have suspected that Luke’s conclusion, “know that the Kingdom of God is near,” is not the original ending of the parable.[70] For one thing, the Kingdom of God has not been mentioned at all in Luke’s version of Jesus’ discourse, so the mention of God’s Kingdom here feels out of place. Moreover, during his teaching and healing ministry Jesus had been proclaiming that the Kingdom of God had already come (Luke 10:9; Matt. 12:28 ∥ Luke 11:20), so it is jarring for Jesus to claim in Luke 21:31 that the Kingdom of God will not arrive until after the completion of the times of the Gentiles’ trampling of Jerusalem. Moreover, numerous scholars have been unable to shake the feeling that beneath the surface of the synoptic versions of the Fig Tree parable there lies an original wordplay between קַיִץ (qayitz, “summer”) and קֵץ (qētz, “end” [BH], “time” [MH]).[71] Concluding with either “the end is near” or “the time [of redemption] is near” makes sense in the parable’s context at the end of Jesus’ discourse, and such a wordplay has precedent (Amos 8:1-2).[72] If such an underlying wordplay existed, then either the author of Luke or the First Reconstructor wrote ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (hē basileia tou theou, “the Kingdom of God”) in place of a Greek equivalent of קֵץ such as τέλος (telos, “end”) or καιρός (kairos, “time”).[73] Of the two alternatives, we think καιρός is the more probable reading of Anth. Although τέλος does occur in Luke 21:9, it belongs to a redactional statement inserted by the First Reconstructor.[74] Καιρός, on the other hand, occurs in Luke 21:24—an original part of Jesus’ discourse—in the phrase καιροὶ ἐθνῶν (kairoi ethnōn, “times of the Gentiles”), which we reconstructed as קִצֵּי הַגּוֹיִם (qitzē hagōyim, “the times of the Gentiles”) in Yerushalayim Besieged, L49. Moreover, presuming Jesus used קֵץ in the sense it had attained in late Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew, namely “time” or “era,”[75] καιρός (“time”) is a better translation of קֵץ than τέλος (“end”). Since we believe that an underlying קֵץ/קַיִץ wordplay did exist in the Fig Tree parable, we have adopted ὁ καιρός for GR.[76]

Despite our reasons for supposing that the reference to the Kingdom of God in Luke’s version of the Fig Tree parable is secondary, we believe that the substitution of “the time [of redemption]” with “the Kingdom of God” is founded on well-informed tradition.[77] In a rabbinic interpretation of the phrase “the time of singing/pruning has arrived” from Song 2:12, which we have already cited above, the time of Israel’s redemption is linked to the Kingdom of Heaven:

עת הזמיר הגיע הגיע זמנן של ישראל להגאל…הגיע זמנה של מלכות שמים שתגלה

The time of the zāmir [singing/pruning] has arrived [Song 2:12]—Israel’s time has come to be redeemed….the time has arrived for the Kingdom of Heaven to be revealed…. (Song Rab. 2:13 §4 [ed. Etelsohn, 121])

This rabbinic linkage of the time of redemption and the revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven to the very Song of Songs passage upon which the Fig Tree parable is based strongly suggests that the substitution of “the time” with “the Kingdom of God” is no mere accident. Its sophistication suggests that it was the First Reconstructor, who elsewhere demonstrated that he was in touch with solid tradition,[78] who made the substitution. The author of Luke, by contrast, made changes to the Fig Tree parable, such as the addition of “and all the trees” in L12, that indicate that he was unaware of the parable’s basis on Song 2:10-13 and the ancient Jewish interpretations associated with it. The First Reconstructor probably substituted “the time” with “the Kingdom of God” because he felt the latter would more easily be understood by his non-Jewish Greek-speaking audience while still conveying the essence of the parable’s message.

הַקֵּץ (HR). On reconstructing καιρός (kairos, “time”) with קֵץ (qētz, “time”), see Yerushalayim Besieged, Comment to L49.

It is crucial to note that while the wordplay on “summer” (קַיִץ [qayitz]) and “time” (קֵץ [qētz]) works in Hebrew, the same cannot be said of Aramaic.[79] The Aramaic term for “summer”/“sun-dried fruit” is קַיְטָא (qayṭā’),[80] while the most similar-sounding Aramaic term for “end”/“time” is קִיצָּא (qitzā’).[81] Thus, if an underlying wordplay was present in the original version of the Fig Tree parable, that original version must have been in Hebrew.[82]

We considered whether instead of הַקֵּץ (haqētz, “the time”) HR ought to have a phrase like קֵץ גְּאֻלַּתְכֶם (qētz ge’ulatchem, “the time of your redemption”), which would tie the parable’s application more closely to Jesus’ statement in Luke 21:28 that “your redemption has come near.” The phrase קֵץ גְּאֻלָּה (qētz ge’ulāh, “time of redemption”) is attested in rabbinic sources (see above, Comment to L1-6), a fact that would support such a reconstruction.[83] Nevertheless, reconstructing with קֵץ גְּאֻלַּתְכֶם (“the time of your redemption”) makes for a weaker wordplay with הַקַּיִץ (“the summer”) than reconstructing with הַקֵּץ. What is more, there are good examples in rabbinic sources where הַקֵּץ (“the time”) is used in reference to the time of redemption, for instance:

ויהי מקץ שלשים שנה וארבע מאות שנה וגו′ מגיד שמכיון שהגיע הקץ לא עכבן המקום כהרף עין בחמשה עשר בניסן נידבר עם אברהם אבינו בין הבתרים בחמשה עשר בניסן באו מלאכי השרת אצל אברהם אבינו לבשרו בחמשה עשר בניסן נולד יצחק בחמשה עשר בניסן נגזרה גזרה בין הבתרים שנאמר ויהי מקץ קץ אחד לכולם

And it happened at the end of four hundred and thirty years, etc. [Exod. 12:41]. This tells us that as soon as the time [for Israel’s redemption from Egypt—DNB and JNT] arrived [הִגִּיעַ הַקֵּץ], the Omnipresent One did not delay for a blink of the eye. On the fifteenth of Nisan he spoke with Abraham between the pieces. On the fifteenth of Nisan the ministering angels came to Abraham our father to tell him the good news [that a son would be born to him—DNB and JNT]. On the fifteenth of Nisan Isaac was born. On the fifteenth of Nisan the decree was decreed between the pieces, as it is said, And it happened at the end [מִקֵּץ] [Exod. 12:41]. One time [קֵץ] for them all.[84] (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Pisḥa §14 [ed. Lauterbach, 77])

טָעוּ שִׁבְטוֹ שֶׁל אֶפְרִיִם וְיָצְאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עַד שֶׁלֹּא שָׁלֵם הַקֵּץ

The tribe of Ephraim made a mistake and departed from Egypt before the time [for Israel’s redemption from Egypt—DNB and JNT] [הַקֵּץ] was complete…. (Exod. Rab. 20:11 [ed. Merkin, 5:240])

ומאן נינהו מתים שהחיה יחזקאל אמר רב אלו בני אפרים שמנו לקץ וטעו

And who were the dead that Ezekiel revived? Rav said, “These are the sons of Ephraim who counted [the years] to the time [of Israel’s redemption from Egypt—DNB and JNT] [לַקֵּץ] but made a mistake….” (b. Sanh. 92b)

א″ר שמואל בר נחמני אמר ר’ יונתן תיפח עצמן של מחשבי קיצין שהיו אומרים כיון שהגיע את הקץ ולא בא שוב אינו בא…אמר רב כלו כל הקיצין ואין הדבר תלוי אלא בתשובה ומעשים טובים

Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan, “May the bones of those who calculate the times [until Israel’s final redemption—DNB and JNT] [קִיצִּין] shatter! For when he [i.e., God—DNB and JNT] brings the time [for Israel’s final redemption—DNB and JNT] [הִגִּיעַ אֶת הַקֵּץ] but he does not arrive, then they say, ‘He will never come.’” …Rav said, “All the [predicted] times [for Israel’s redemption] [הַקִּיצִּין] have expired, and now the matter depends only on repentance and good deeds.” (b. Sanh. 97b)

Examples such as these give us confidence that if Jesus had said הִגִּיעַ הַקֵּץ (“the time has arrived”), his audience would have understood that Jesus was referring to the time of Israel’s redemption, especially since the parable and its application were commentaries on Jesus’ statement that “when these things begin to happen, raise yourselves up and lift your heads, because your redemption has arrived” (Luke 21:28).

The examples of the absolute use of הַקֵּץ to refer to the time of Israel’s redemption cited above have also provided us with instances of the phrase הִגִּיעַ הַקֵּץ. Additional examples of קֵץ + הִגִּיעַ include:

קץ שם לחשך זמן ניתן ליוסף כמה שנים יעשה בבית האסורים, כיון שהגיע קץ, חלם פרעה חלום ויהי מקץ שנתים ימים וגו′‏

He has set an end for darkness [Job 28:3]. A time was given to Joseph how many years he would do in prison. As soon as the time [for his release—DNB and JNT] arrived [הִגִּיעַ קֵץ], Pharaoh dreamed a dream: And it happened at the end of two years, etc. [Gen. 41:1]. (Gen. Rab. 89:1 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 3:1086])

וכיון שהגיע קיצו של משה להפטר מן העולם בא מלאך המות

As soon as Moses’ time arrived [הִגִּיעַ קִיצּוֹ] for him to depart from the world, the Angel of Death came…. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, §25 [ed. Schechter, 51])

L24 ἐπὶ θύραις (Mark 13:29). The author of Mark either realized that Luke’s reference to the Kingdom of God was an intrusive element in Jesus’ discourse or he equated the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ triumphant return as the Son of Man. Either way, the author of Mark omitted a subject for the verb ἐστίν (estin, “he/she/it is”), but added a second adverbial phrase, ἐπὶ θύραις (epi thūrais, “[he/she/it is] at the doors”). The author of Mark expected that his readers would supply the Son of Man as the subject of the final statement in his version of the Fig Tree parable, since he had just described the Son of Man’s coming in Mark 13:26-27. And if that clue was not sufficient for his readers, they would certainly have realized that the thing “at the doors” was the Son of Man when they went on to read Mark 13:32-37, where the vigilant watch for the Son of Man’s coming they are exhorted to maintain is compared to that of a doorkeeper (θυρωρός [thūrōros]) who remains awake as he waits for his master’s return (Mark 13:34).[85]

A depiction of Jesus knocking at a door on a stained-glass window. Photographed by Stjohn-stroudsburg. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

There are three indications that the words ἐπὶ θύραις are redactional. First, Cadbury observed that in Mark’s Gospel it is common to encounter double adverbial phrases (e.g., “he/she/it is near, at the door”), but in the Lukan parallels there is only one adverbial phrase or none at all.[86] Cadbury believed that the explanation for this phenomenon was the author of Luke’s simplifying of Mark’s grammar, but if Lindsey is correct that it was the author of Mark who redacted Luke, then double adverbial phrases in Mark are an indication of Markan redaction. Second, Mark’s version of the Fig Tree parable seems to involve a wordplay between θέρος (theros, “summer”) and θύραις (thūrais, “doors”).[87] While such a wordplay is possible in Greek, it does not work in Hebrew (קַיִץ [qayitz, “summer”] ∦ דֶּלֶת [delet, “door”]), which means that the wordplay was introduced into the parable at the Greek stage of the parable’s transmission. According to Lindsey’s hypothesis, the author of Mark, revising Luke, would have been the one responsible for crafting this secondary Greek wordplay. Third, scholars have noted the similarity between Mark’s statement that “he [i.e., the Son of Man] is at the doors” and the statement in the epistle of James that “the judge is standing in front of the doors” (James 5:9). The judge to whom James refers is none other than “the Lord” whose coming has come near (James 5:8). While most scholars have supposed that the author of James drew on the synoptic tradition,[88] Lindsey proposed that the relationship was reversed, namely that the author of Mark occasionally alluded to the epistle of James when redacting the stories and sayings he copied from Luke, citing Mark’s addition of “at the doors” to the Fig Tree parable as an example.[89]

Redaction Analysis

Luke’s Version[90]

Fig Tree parable
Luke Anthology
Total
Words:
54 Total
Words:
41 [42]
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
31 Total
Words
Taken Over
in Luke:
31
%
Identical
to Anth.:
57.41 % of Anth.
in Luke:
75.61 [73.81]
Click here for details.

Luke’s version of the Fig Tree parable underwent two stages of redaction: first at the hands of the First Reconstructor, and subsequently at the hands of the author of Luke. The Fig Tree parable is rare in that it is possible to distinguish, to some extent, between these two layers of redaction. To the author of Luke we may safely attribute the addition in L12 of “and all the trees,” since such generalizations have been detected in portions of Luke where the First Reconstructor’s influence was not present. Likewise, we have attributed the use of διότι (“because”) to the author of Luke because of its frequency in Acts. On the other hand, we have attributed the addition of ἤδη (“already”) in L13 and L18 to the First Reconstructor because of its infrequent occurrence in Acts. To the First Reconstructor we have also ascribed the replacement in L23 of Anth.’s ὁ καιρός (“the time [of redemption]”) with ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (“the Kingdom of God”). This change appears to be informed by an ancient Jewish tradition that associated the phrase “the time of pruning/singing has arrived” in Song 2:12 with both the arrival of the time of Israel’s future redemption and the revealing of the Kingdom of Heaven. Since the author of Luke appears to have been unaware of the rootedness of the Fig Tree parable in Song 2:10-13 and the ancient Jewish exegetical traditions related to this passage, it was probably the First Reconstructor who made this change.

Other changes, including the genitive absolute construction in L1-2, the possible omission of λέγων in L10, the replacement of “Behold the fig tree” with “Look at the fig tree” in L11, and the addition of “seeing by yourselves” in L17 and “also you” in L20 could be due either to the First Reconstructor or to the author of Luke.

Despite these instances of stylistic “improvement,” the original message and the original background is still recoverable in Luke’s version of the Fig Tree parable. The same cannot be said of the versions in Mark and Matthew.

Mark’s Version[91]

Fig Tree parable
Mark Anthology
Total
Words:
37 Total
Words:
41 [42]
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
17 Total
Words
Taken Over
in Mark:
17
%
Identical
to Anth.:
45.95 % of Anth.
in Mark:
41.46 [40.48]
Click here for details.

The author of Mark thoroughly reworked the Fig Tree parable in an extraordinary manner. He reinterpreted the parable as an eschatological sign that would be manifest in a particular fig tree, the very tree that withered when it failed to provide Jesus with figs on his way to Jerusalem. Although this tree had miraculously dried up from the roots, the author of Mark intimated that it would spring to life again, and when his readers saw this happening, they would know that the Son of Man’s coming was at the doors. Nearly all of the author of Mark’s redactional activity in the Fig Tree parable can be explained as resulting from his reinterpretation of the Fig Tree parable in terms of the revitalization of the withered fig tree. His reference to tender branches is the reversal of the drying up of the fig tree’s roots, and his reference to the sprouting of leaves reminds readers of the denuding of the fig tree after Jesus was disappointed to find only leaves, but no fruit, on the fig tree. The one redactional change the author of Mark made that appears to be unrelated to the reinterpretation of the Fig Tree parable as an eschatological sign is the final phrase “at the doors,” which may be an example of a “Markan pick-up” from the epistle of James.

Matthew’s Version[92]

Fig Tree parable
Matthew Anthology
Total
Words:
36 Total
Words:
41 [42]
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
16 Total
Words
Taken Over
in Matt.:
16
%
Identical
to Anth.:
44.44 % of Anth.
in Matt.:
39.02 [38.10]
Click here for details.

The author of Matthew copied Mark’s version of the Fig Tree parable with almost no change. As a result, the Fig Tree parable is one of the very few Triple Tradition pericopae that lacks any Lukan-Matthean minor agreements.[93] The few instances of Matthean redaction involve changes of word order (L15, L16) or the omission (L19, L21) or addition (L21) of single words. The close adherence to Mark’s version of the Fig Tree parable suggests that the author of Matthew was ignorant of the parable’s original basis in Song 2:10-13 or its connection to ancient Jewish hopes for Israel’s redemption.

Results of This Research

1. What was the Fig Tree parable originally about? Scholars have proposed a surprisingly wide array of interpretations of the Fig Tree parable, mostly because they have discounted the originality of its placement within Jesus’ prophecy of the Temple’s destruction and the fall of Jerusalem. Some scholars feel that the parable must originally have been about how Jesus’ healings and exorcisms are evidence of the proximity of the Kingdom of God, just as the appearance of leaves on a fig tree is evidence of the closeness of summer.[94] Others have suggested that the parable is about the impending judgment. Just as the ripening of figs signals the nearness of the harvest, so should the disciples be able to determine from the evidence before their eyes that the final judgment is at hand.[95]

Luke’s Gospel, however, provides compelling evidence that the Fig Tree parable does appear in its original setting at the end of Jesus’ prophecy of destruction and redemption and that the original meaning of the parable was that when the signs of cosmic collapse begin to manifest themselves in the heavens, Jesus’ followers need not be terrified along with the rest of humanity. They can take heart because the collapse of the current world order means that Israel’s redemption has finally arrived. Only Luke’s version explicitly links the Fig Tree parable to redemption, and only in Luke’s version can it be seen that the original basis of the Fig Tree parable is Song 2:10-13. When we find that ancient Jewish sources interpret this Song of Songs passage as describing Israel’s redemption, the conclusion that Luke’s version of the Fig Tree parable is closest to the original becomes unavoidable.

The author of Mark did not completely divorce the Fig Tree parable from the concept of redemption, he merely focused his attention on the redeemer, whom he identified as the Son of Man. The more drastic change the author of Mark made to the Fig Tree parable was to transform the quickening of the fig tree into an eschatological sign by making the parable refer to a specific fig tree, the one that withered when Jesus failed to discover fruit on its branches. According to the author of Mark, when the withered fig tree showed signs of life again, the coming of the Son of Man would be imminent, “at the doors.”

Conclusion

The assurance of Israel’s eventual redemption embedded in the Fig Tree parable forms a fitting conclusion to Jesus’ prophecy of destruction and redemption.


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  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] This translation is a dynamic rendition of our reconstruction of the conjectured Hebrew source that stands behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels. It is not a translation of the Greek text of a canonical source.
  • [3] See Bultmann, 173; Knox, 1:107; Jeremias, Parables, 119-120; Lloyd Gaston, No Stone On Another: Studies in the Significance of the Fall of Jerusalem in the Synoptic Gospels (Leiden: Brill, 1970), 35. For a different view, see Manson, Sayings, 333.
  • [4] See Gaston, No Stone On Another, 36.
  • [5] Cf. R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 107-120, esp. 119).
  • [6] See David Flusser, “Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem” (Flusser, Jesus, 237-250, esp. 240-241).
  • [7] On the non-redactional use of ἄρχειν + infinitive in the writings of Luke, see Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica, “Critical Notes on the VTS” (JS1, 259-317, esp. 266-267).
  • [8] The related noun λύτρωσις (lūtrōsis, “redemption”) does occur twice in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:68; 2:38), and the cognate verb λυτροῦν (lūtroun, “to redeem”) occurs in Luke 24:21. In each instance where these terms occur in Luke’s Gospel they refer to the redemption of Israel from a Judeocentric perspective. They do not evince the universalist outlook of the author of Luke.
  • [9] See Vincent Taylor, “A Cry from the Siege: A Suggestion Regarding a Non-Markan Oracle Embedded in Lk. XXI 20-36,” Journal of Theological Studies 26.102 (1925): 136-144, esp. 138-139; Paul Winter, “The Treatment of His Sources by the Third Evangelist in Luke XXI-XXIV,” Studia Theologica 8.1 (1954): 138-172, esp. 150-151; David Flusser, “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem,” under the subheading “Lindsey’s Hypothesis and Jesus’ Prophecy”; idem, “Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem,” 240-241. Cf. Nolland, 3:1006; Bovon, 3:119.
  • [10] The Hebrew noun זָמִיר (zāmir) can mean either “singing” or “pruning.” Both meanings make sense in Song 2:12, and rabbinic exegesis exploits both meanings.
  • [11] Cf. Gill, 7:295.
  • [12] See Flusser, “Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem,” 240-241; Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 112; Peter J. Tomson, “The Song of Songs in the Teachings of Jesus and the Development of the Exposition of the Song,” New Testament Studies 61 (2015): 429-447, esp. 438. Cf. Nolland, Luke, 3:1009.
  • [13] The reference to the Samaritans is probably a pejorative for the Christianized Roman Empire. Parallels in other rabbinic sources refer in one way or another to the Roman Empire. Yalkut Shim‘oni §986 reads, הגיע זמנה של מלכות הרביעית שתעבור מן העולם (“The fourth empire’s time has come that it should pass away from the world”). Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 5:9 (ed. Mandelbaum, 1:97) reads, הגיע זמנה של מלכות הרשעה שתעקר מן העולם (“The wicked empire’s time has come that it should be uprooted from the world”). Pesikta Rabbati 15:14/15 (ed. Friedmann, 75a) reads, הגיע זמנה של מלכות הרשעה הזאת שתעקר מן העולם (“This wicked empire’s time has come that it should be uprooted from the world”).
  • [14] See Shmuel Safrai, “Oral Torah,” in The Literature of the Sages (2 vols.; CRINT II.3; Assen/Maastricht: Van Gorcum; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:35-119, esp. 88.
  • [15] See LOY Excursus: The Genitive Absolute in the Synoptic Gospels.
  • [16] See Buth and Kvasnica, “Critical Notes on the VTS,” 266-267.
  • [17] Cf. the question in Luke 21:7 with which the discourse began: καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα γίνεσθαι (“…and what is the sign when these things are about to happen?”).
  • [18] See Wolter, 2:430.
  • [19] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:78.
  • [20] On reconstructing ἀναστῆναι with קָם, see Healing Shimon’s Mother-in-law, Comment to L2-3.
  • [21] On reconstructing ἐγείρειν with קָם, see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L15.
  • [22] So, for example, in rabbinic interpretations of Song 2:12 the sages constantly gloss עֵת (‘ēt, “time”) with זְמָן (zemān, “time”). Cf., e.g., Song Rab. 2:13 §4, quoted above in Comment to L1-6.
  • [23] Delitzsch rendered ἀνακύπτειν in Luke 21:28 as הִתְעוֹדֵד, but we do not know of any examples of the ע-ו-ד root appearing in the hitpolel stem in rabbinic sources. The MHNT followed Delitzsch’s translation.
  • [24] And compare the following statement in Song of Songs Rabbah:

    עת הזמיר הגיע הגיע זמנן של ישראל להגאל

    The time of the zāmir [“singing/pruning”] has arrived [Song 2:12]—Israel’s time has come [הִגִּיעַ] to be redeemed [לְהִגָּאֵל]. (Song Rab. 2:13 §4 [ed. Etelsohn, 121])

  • [25] On the meaning of the term ἀπολύτρωσις, see Bovon, 3:119.
  • [26] Cf. Flusser, “Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem,” 243 n. 15.
  • [27] See Gaston, No Stone on Another, 363.
  • [28] See Manson, Sayings, 333; Bundy, 469 §378; Marshall, 778; Fitzmyer, 1:599; Bovon, 3:120 n. 117. See also R. Steven Notley, “The Season of Redemption,” under the subheading “Luke’s Editorial Activity”; idem, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 108.
  • [29] See Buth and Kvasnica, “Critical Notes on the VTS,” 259-260. We find λέγειν/εἰπεῖν + παραβολή in the introduction to parables in Luke 4:23 (ἐρεῖτέ μοι τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην); 5:36 (ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτούς); 6:39 (εἶπεν δὲ καὶ παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς); 8:4 (εἶπεν διὰ παραβολῆς); 12:16 (εἶπεν δὲ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτοὺς λέγων); 13:6 (ἔλεγεν δὲ ταύτην τὴν παραβολήν); 14:7 (ἔλεγεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς κεκλημένους παραβολήν); 15:3 (εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην λέγων); 18:1 (ἔλεγεν δὲ παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς); 18:9 (εἶπεν δὲ…τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην); 19:11 (εἶπεν παραβολήν); 20:9 (ἤρξατο δὲ πρὸς τὸν λαὸν λέγειν τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην); 21:29 (καὶ εἶπεν παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς). Cf. Luke 12:41 (πρὸς ἡμᾶς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην λέγεις) and Luke 20:19 (ἔγνωσαν γὰρ ὅτι πρὸς αὐτοὺς εἶπεν τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην; cf. Mark 12:12).
  • [30] Cf. Knox, 1:110.
  • [31] It may be that the presence of such transitional phrases in the Hebrew Life of Yeshua and its Greek translation facilitated the Anthologizer’s segmentation of longer literary units (complexes) into smaller components consisting of stories, teachings and parables, which he then reorganized according to genre.
  • [32] Cf. Beare, Matt., 472.
  • [33] Pace Bultmann (173), who believed Mark’s introductory phrase to be original. We encountered another such omission of a transitional phrase by the author of Mark in Tumultuous Times, L1.
  • [34] For this reading of Mark 11:14, see Richard H. Hiers, “‘Not the Season for Figs,’” Journal of Biblical Literature 87.4 (1968): 395-401; J. Duncan M. Derrett, “Figtrees in the New Testament,” Heythrop Journal 14.3 (1973): 249-265, esp. 251; Mann, 440-441; Douglas E. Oakman, “Cursing Fig Trees and Robbers’ Dens: Pronouncement Stories Within Social-Systemic Perspective: Mark 11:12-15 and Parallels,” Semeia 64 (1993): 253-272, esp. 256, 262.
  • [35] Pace Bultmann (123), who denied that Mark referred to a particular tree.
  • [36] On the eschatological bending over and straightening up of a tree, see M. Kister and E. Qimron, “Observations on 4QSecond Ezekiel (4Q385 2-3),” Revue de Qumrân 15.4 (60) (1992): 595-602; Menahem Kister, “Barnabas 12:1; 4:3 and 4Q Second Ezekiel,” Revue Biblique 97.1 (1990): 63-67, esp. 64-66.
  • [37] More puzzling is whether the author of Mark would have invented the story of the fig tree’s withering out of his approach to the Fig Tree parable or whether the author of Mark had a tradition about a fig tree that withered when it had failed to provide Jesus with fruit.
  • [38] Indirect support for our inclusion of λέγων in GR to L10 comes from our conclusion that εἶπεν + παραβολή + λέγων occurred elsewhere in Anth. See the Four Soils parable, Comment to L20, and the examples cited there.
  • [39] We have used the term “simile” for illustrations delivered in the form of questions. See Tower Builder and King Going to War, Comment to L1. For example, the Lost Sheep simile begins, “Which of you, having a hundred sheep…?”
  • [40] Note that Notley-Safrai (69) include the “Budding Fig Tree” in their list of parables in the Synoptic Gospels.
  • [41] On the omission or replacement of ἰδού by the author of Luke (or the First Reconstructor before him), see Friend in Need, Comment to L6.
  • [42] On reconstructing ἰδού (idou, “Behold!”) with הֲרֵי (ha, “Behold!”), see Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb, Comment to L22.
  • [43] See McNeile, 354.
  • [44] See Jeremias, Parables, 29, 120; Marshall, 778; France, Mark, 537.
  • [45] See Tomson, “The Song of Songs in the Teachings of Jesus and the Development of the Exposition of the Song,” 438.
  • [46] As noted by A. B. Bruce, 622; Cadbury, Style, 115.
  • [47] See Coming From All Directions, Comment to L4.
  • [48] There appears to be unanimous agreement among scholars that Luke’s “and all the trees” is redactional. See Swete, 313; Bultmann, 123; Creed, 258; Manson, Sayings, 333; Taylor, 520; Bundy, 469 §378; Jeremias, Parables, 29; Marshall, 778; Fitzmyer, 2:1352; Bovon, 3:120 n. 117. See also 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 L107; Notley, “The Season of Redemption,” under the subheading “Luke’s Editorial Activity”; idem, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 108 n. 3.
  • [49] Pace Bovon, 3:120. The following table shows all of the instances of ἤδη in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the synoptic parallels, if any:

    Matt. 3:10 DT = Luke 3:9

    Matt. 5:28 U

    Matt. 14:15 TT = Mark 6:35 (2nd instance) (cf. Luke 9:12)

    Matt. 14:24 Mk-Mt (cf. Mark 6:47)

    Matt. 15:32 Mk-Mt = Mark 8:2

    Matt. 17:12 Mk-Mt (cf. Mark 9:13)

    Matt. 24:32 TT = Mark 13:28; Luke 21:30

    Mark 4:37 TT (cf. Matt. 8:24; Luke 8:23)

    Mark 6:35 (1st) TT (cf. Matt. 14:15; Luke 9:12)

    Mark 6:35 (2nd) TT = Matt. 14:15 (cf. Luke 9:12)

    Mark 8:2 Mk-Mt = Matt. 15:32

    Mark 11:11 TT (cf. Matt. 21:10, 17; Luke 19:45)

    Mark 13:28 TT = Matt. 24:32; Luke 21:30 (1st instance)

    Mark 15:42 TT (cf. Matt. 27:57; Luke 23:50, 54)

    Mark 15:44 TT (cf. Matt. 27:58; Luke 23:52)

    Luke 3:9 DT = Matt. 3:10

    Luke 7:6 DT (cf. Matt. 8:8)

    Luke 11:7 U

    Luke 12:49 U

    Luke 14:17 DT (cf. Matt. 22:4)

    Luke 19:37 TT (cf. Matt. 21:9; Mark 11:9)

    Luke 21:30 (1st) TT = Matt. 24:32; Mark 13:28

    Luke 21:30 (2nd) TT (cf. Matt. 24:32; Mark 13:28)

    Luke 23:44 TT (cf. Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33)

    Luke 24:29 U


    Key: TT = pericope has parallels in all three Synoptic Gospels; DT = Lukan-Matthean pericope; Mk-Mt = Markan-Matthean pericope; U = verse unique to a particular Gospel

    From the table above we see that the author of Matthew sometimes accepted ἤδη when it appeared in Mark, sometimes rejected it, and even occasionally added ἤδη where it was absent in Mark.

    The author of Mark used ἤδη at a proportionally higher rate than either of the other two synoptic writers, but Luke and Mark agree on the use of ἤδη in only a single instance (Mark 13:28 ∥ Luke 21:30 [1st instance]). We might suppose that the lack of Lukan-Markan agreement to use ἤδη stems from Luke’s aversion to this adverb, except that Matthew supports Luke’s omission of ἤδη on five occasions (Mark 4:37 [cf. Matt. 8:24; Luke 8:23]; 6:35 [cf. Matt. 14:15; Luke 9:12]; 11:11 [cf. Matt. 21:10, 17; Luke 19:45]; 15:42 [cf. Matt. 27:57; Luke 23:50, 54], 44 [cf. Matt. 27:58; Luke 23:52]). These Lukan-Matthean agreements against Mark’s use of ἤδη strongly suggest that the author of Mark inserted ἤδη, not that Luke avoided it. The same conclusion is supported by the ten instances of ἤδη in Luke’s Gospel. Apparently the author of Luke had no particular dislike for ἤδη and was often willing to copy it when it appeared in his source. But the author of Luke was probably not responsible for adding most of his instances of ἤδη, for otherwise it is hard to explain why ἤδη is so rare in Acts, where it occurs only 3xx (Acts 4:3; 27:9 [2xx]). The author of Luke’s failure to agree with Mark’s use of ἤδη is best explained by Lindsey’s conclusion that the Gospel of Mark was not used by the author of Luke as a source.

    According to Lindsey, it was the author of Mark who utilized the Gospel of Luke. But why would the author of Mark avoid most instances of Luke’s ἤδη only to use ἤδη elsewhere in his Gospel? First of all, we must point out that most instances of Luke’s ἤδη occur in pericopae that do not occur in Mark’s Gospel, so there was actually relatively little active avoidance of ἤδη by the author of Mark. From Lindsey’s perspective, there are only three occasions where the author of Mark avoided Luke’s ἤδη, which makes Mark’s behavior with respect to ἤδη in his source comparable to Matthew’s. Second, it was Lindsey’s belief that it was the author of Mark’s intention to deliver a dramatized paraphrase of portions of Luke’s Gospel, so verbal substitution was an essential part of Mark’s redactional program. Moreover, Lindsey noted that the strange pattern of rejecting Lukan terms in their Lukan context only to proliferate these same terms elsewhere in his Gospel, including in portions of Mark parallel to Luke where the author of Luke had not used them, is typical of Markan redaction. See Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Mark’s Midrashic Technique”; and LOY Excursus: Catalog of Markan Stereotypes and Possible Markan Pick-ups.

  • [50] See Creed, 258; Marshall, 778; Wolter, 2:431. Some early copyists were so bothered by Luke’s poor Greek that they supplied προβάλλειν in Luke 21:30 with an object, namely τὸν καρπὸν αὐτῶν (ton karpon avtōn, “their fruits”). See Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 112.
  • [51] See Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 112.
  • [52] There is a grammatical ambiguity in Mark’s Greek, depending on whether εκφυη is accented ἐκφύῃ (ekfūē, “it [i.e., the branch] might put out”) or ἐκφυῇ (ekfūē, “they [i.e., the leaves] might come out”). The difference is minute and does not affect the meaning of the parable. See A. B. Bruce, 432; Plummer, Mark, 304; Taylor, 520; France, Mark, 537 n. 28; Luz, 3:207 n. 2.
  • [53] See Zohary, 58. Mark’s familiarity with fig trees was common knowledge. See, for instance, the following statement of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel:

    רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומ′ מהוצאת עלין עד הפגין חמשים יום מן הפגים ועד שיתין ונובלות חמשים יום ומשיתין ונובלות עד התאנים חמשים יום

    Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, “From putting forth leaves until green figs: fifty days. From green figs until wild figs and prematurely cast-off fruit: fifty days. And from wild figs and prematurely cast-off fruit until [fully ripe] figs: fifty days.” (t. Shev. 4:20; Vienna MS)

  • [54] Note, too, that whereas the verb for “seeing” in L11 and L21 is ἰδεῖν (idein), a different verb for “seeing,” βλέπειν (blepein), is used in L17.
  • [55] On reconstructing ἑαυτοῦ with עֶצֶם + suffix, see Yeshua’s Discourse on Worry, Comment to L62.
  • [56] If original, the absence of “by yourselves” in the application could be due to the change of mood from the indicative to the imperative.
  • [57] Cf. Wolter, 2:431.
  • [58] In LXX most instances of ἐγγύς occur as the translation of קָרוֹב. See Hatch-Redpath, 1:363-364. Likewise, the LXX translators rendered קָרוֹב more often as ἐγγύς than as any other equivalent. See Dos Santos, 186.
  • [59] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:649.
  • [60] See Dos Santos, 183.
  • [61] See Luz, 3:208 n. 7.
  • [62] See Gill, 7:295; Tomson, “The Song of Songs in the Teachings of Jesus and the Development of the Exposition of the Song,” 438. Notley (“Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 111), on the other hand, concluded that the fruit rather than the season was intended, arguing that the appearance of green figs on a fig tree is a sign that the ripe figs are soon to appear. However, the parable makes no direct reference to green figs.
  • [63] See Gill, 7:295; Luz, 3:208. See also Azaria Alon, The Natural History of the Land of the Bible (London: Paul Hamlyn, 1969), 45-47.
  • [64] See Oded Borowski, “The Agricultural Calendar,” in his Agriculture in Iron Age Israel (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1987), 31-44, esp. 33, 38. Cf., e.g., Isa. 28:4; Jer. 8:20; t. Ned. 4:7; Gen. Rab. 34:11 (ed. Theodor-Albeck, 1:323). Ripe figs can be found from July to September. See Yoav Waisel and Azaria Alon, Trees of the Land of Israel (Tel Aviv: Division of Ecology, 1980), 40.
  • [65] See Yeshua’s Discourse on Worry, L44.
  • [66] Cf. Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 111.
  • [67] See David Flusser, “The Parables of Jesus and the Parables in Rabbinic Literature,” in his Jewish Sources in Early Christianity: Studies and Essays (Tel Aviv: Sifriat Poalim, 1979), 150-209 (in Hebrew), esp. 199.
  • [68] Cf. Gundry, Matt., 490; Nolland, Matt., 987; Luz, 3:207 n. 5.
  • [69] Cf. Plummer, Mark, 305; Taylor, 520.
  • [70] Cf., e.g., McNeile, 354; Cadbury, Style, 150; Bundy, 469 §378; Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 108.
  • [71] See McNeile, 354; Gaston, No Stone on Another, 36; Pinchas Lapide, “Hidden Hebrew in the Gospels,” Immanuel 2 (1973): 28-34, esp. 29; Derrett, “Figtrees in the New Testament,” 259; Lachs, 386; Davies-Allison, 3:365-366; Nolland, Luke, 3:1008; Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 111; Marcus, 2:910; Tomson, “The Song of Songs in the Teachings of Jesus and the Development of the Exposition of the Song,” 438; Miguel Pérez Fernández, “Midrash and the New Testament: A Methodology for the Study of Gospel Midrash,” in The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature (ed. Reimund Bieringer, Florentino García Martínez, Didier Pollefeyt, and Peter J. Tomson; Leiden: Brill, 2010), 367-384, esp. 374, 377-378. Gundry (Matt., 490) and Vermes (Religion, 99) cast doubt on the presence of an underlying wordplay. In response to Gundry’s doubts, see R. Steven Notley, “Non-Septuagintal Hebraisms in the Third Gospel: An Inconvenient Truth” (JS2, 320-346, esp. 321 n. 7).
  • [72] It is unlikely that Jesus alluded to this passage in Amos in the Fig Tree parable, even though the terms involved in the wordplay are the same. In the first place, the basket of summer fruit (קַיִץ) symbolized the end (קֵץ) of the northern kingdom, whereas an underlying wordplay in the Fig Tree parable would make an analogy between the nearness of summer (קַיִץ) and the nearness of the time (of redemption) or the end (of the age) (קֵץ), not punishment. The different symbolism shows that Amos 8:1-2 and the Fig Tree parable would be playing on different senses of קַיִץ (Amos: summer fruit; Jesus: summer season) and probably of קֵץ as well (Amos: end; Jesus: time), since in Mishnaic Hebrew קֵץ had ceased to be used in the sense of “end” (the term for “end” was now סוֹף), but was regularly used in the sense of “time,” “period” or “era.”

    According to scholars, in the Hebrew dialect spoken in the northern kingdom in the time of Amos, both קַיִץ (“summer fruit”) and קֵץ (“end”) were pronounced the same: qētz. Amos, who was from the kingdom of Judah, on the other hand, spoke a dialect in which the two words were pronounced differently: qayitz (“summer fruit”) and qētz (“end”). See Shalom M. Paul, Amos: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 254.

    Examples of wordplays on the nouns קַיִץ and קֵץ independent of Amos are attested in rabbinic sources. For instance:

    אמר ר′ אחא מי גרם להם שימרדו בי לא על ידי שזורעין ולא קוצרין יולדין ולא קוברין מיכן ואילך זרע וקציר יולדין וקוברין קור וחם חמה ואבבית קיץ וחורף מקייץ אני עליהם את העוף היך דאת אמר וקץ עליו העיט וכל בהמה הארץ עליו תחרף

    Rabbi Aha said, “Who caused them [i.e., the generation of the flood—DNB and JNT] to rebel against me [i.e., God—DNB and JNT]? Was it not because they sow but do not reap, give birth but do not bury? From now on there will be seedtime and harvest [Gen. 8:22]—they will give birth [to children] and bury [them]—cold and heat [Gen. 8:22]—[because of] fever and vomiting—summer [קַיִץ] and winter [Gen. 8:22]—I will cause the birds to summer [מְקַיֵּיץ] upon them, as it is said, and the carrion birds will summer [וְקָץ] upon him and all the wild animals will winter upon him [Isa. 18:6].” (Gen. Rab. 34:11 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 1:322])

    ויהי מקץ שנתים ימים. זש″ה כחלום מהקיץ ה′ בעיר צלמם תבזה

    And it happened at the end [מִקֵּץ] of two years [that Pharaoh dreamt] [Gen. 41:1]. This is in accordance with what Scripture says: Like a dream for the one who wakens [מֵהָקִיץ], the LORD, when he is roused, despises their phantoms [Ps. 73:20]. (Aggadat Bereshit 66 [67]:1 [ed. Buber, 131])

  • [73] In LXX the noun τέλος occurs as the translation of קֵץ in Judg. 11:39; 2 Kgdms. 15:7; 4 Kgdms. 19:23; 2 Chr. 18:2; 2 Esd. 23:6. On the equivalence between καιρός and קֵץ, see Yerushalayim Besieged, Comment to L49.
  • [74] On the redactional nature of Luke 21:9, see the introduction to the “Destruction and Redemption” complex.
  • [75] See Kutscher, 103 §165.
  • [76] There may be some support for our reconstruction of ὁ καιρός in L23 in Mark’s account of the withered fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21). We believe the author of Mark composed this account in light of the Fig Tree parable, which he reinterpreted as an eschatological sign (see above, Comment to L8-9). In Mark 11:13 the author of Mark explains that when Jesus approached the fig tree he was disappointed ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς οὐκ ἦν σύκων (“because it was not the time for figs”). According to Mark’s reinterpretation of the Fig Tree parable, the withered fig tree’s θέρος (“summer,” “harvest time”) would not arrive until the Son of Man’s coming was “at the doors” (Mark 13:29). Only then would “the time for figs” for this particular tree finally be achieved. Thus, ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς οὐκ ἦν σύκων (“for it was not the time for figs”) in Mark 11:13 could be an echo of γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ὁ καιρός (“know that the time is near”) in Anth.’s version of the Fig Tree parable.
  • [77] See Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 117 n. 38.
  • [78] See our discussion of the First Reconstructor’s version of The Kingdom of Heaven Is Increasing, especially Comment to L8 and under the “Redaction Analysis” subheading.
  • [79] Gaston, No Stone on Another, 36 n. 3. J. Duncan M. Derrett (“Figtrees in the New Testament,” 259) was mistaken when he stated that the Hebrew and Aramaic terms for “‘(fig-) harvest’” are “qayiṣ.” This error prevented him from realizing that the pun works only in Hebrew. Gundry was aware that the pun does not work in Aramaic, but he drew the wrong conclusion, namely that since Jesus did not speak Hebrew, there cannot have been a wordplay in the original version of the Fig Tree parable.
  • [80] See Jastrow, 1357.
  • [81] See Jastrow, 1404.
  • [82] Gaston (No Stone on Another, 36 n. 3) admitted the likelihood that Jesus spoke Hebrew, but doubted that Hebrew would have been an appropriate language in which to deliver a parable. Apparently Gaston was unaware that all rabbinic parables, even those that appear in a context where the surrounding language is Aramaic, are preserved in Hebrew. See Shmuel Safrai, “Literary Languages in the Time of Jesus,” under the subheading “Parables”; R. Steven Notley, “Reading Gospel Parables as Jewish Literature,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 41.1 (2018): 29-43, esp. 32-33. Thus, contrary to Gaston’s doubts, Hebrew was the only appropriate language in which to deliver a parable. Since parables were teaching aids designed for popular audiences, the fact that all rabbinic parables are preserved in Hebrew is a strong indication that Hebrew was widely spoken among Jews of the early centuries of the common era.
  • [83] Reconstructing with קֵץ גְּאֻלַּתְכֶם (“the time of your redemption”) would require us to amend GR to ὁ καιρὸς τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως ὑμῶν (“the time of your redemption”), a phrase that has a close parallel in Dan. 4:34: ὁ χρόνος μου τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως (“my time of redemption”).
  • [84] Notice the play on the Biblical versus the Mishnaic meanings of קֵץ at the end of this midrash on Exod. 12:41.
  • [85] Cf. Marshall, 779.
  • [86] See Cadbury, Style, 151-152.
  • [87] See 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 L114; Notley, “The Season of Redemption,” under the subheading “Interpreting Jesus’ Fig Tree Saying”; idem, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree,” 111.
  • [88] See Swete, 315; McNeile, 354; Davies-Allison, 3:366.
  • [89] See 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 L114. Cf. Notley, “The Season of Redemption,” under the subheading “Interpreting Jesus’ Fig Tree Saying.” Lindsey also detected allusions to the epistle of James in Mark 1:5 (cf. James 5:16); 4:6 (cf. James 1:11); 5:34 (cf. James 2:16); 6:13 (cf. James 5:14); 11:23-24 (cf. James 1:5-6). See LOY Excursus: Catalog of Markan Stereotypes and Possible Markan Pick-ups.
  • [90]
    Fig Tree parable
    Luke’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    ἀρχομένων δὲ τούτων γείνεσθαι ἀνακύψατε καὶ ἐπάρατε τὰς κεφαλὰς ὑμῶν διότι ἐγγίζει ἡ ἀπολύτρωσις ὑμῶν καὶ εἶπεν παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς ἴδετε τὴν συκῆν καὶ πάντα τὰ δένδρα ὅταν προβάλωσιν ἤδη βλέποντες ἀφ᾿ ἑαυτῶν γεινώσκετε ὅτι ἤδη ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος ἐστίν οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ὅταν ἴδητε ταῦτα γεινόμενα γεινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ὅταν δὲ ἄρξονται ταῦτα γίνεσθαι ἀνακύψατε καὶ ἐπάρατε τὰς κεφαλὰς ὑμῶν ὅτι ἐγγίζει ἡ ἀπολύτρωσις ὑμῶν καὶ εἶπεν παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς [λέγων] ἰδού ἡ συκῆ ὅταν προβάλῃ γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος ἐστίν οὕτως ὅταν ἴδητε ταῦτα γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ὁ καιρός
    Total Words: 54 Total Words: 41 [42]
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 31 Total Words Taken Over in Luke: 31
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 57.41% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Luke: 75.61 [73.81]%

  • [91]
    Fig Tree parable
    Mark’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν ὅταν ἤδη ὁ κλάδος αὐτῆς ἁπαλὸς γένηται καὶ ἐκφύῃ τὰ φύλλα γεινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος ἐστίν οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ὅταν ἴδητε ταῦτα γεινόμενα γεινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ἐπὶ θύραις ὅταν δὲ ἄρξονται ταῦτα γίνεσθαι ἀνακύψατε καὶ ἐπάρατε τὰς κεφαλὰς ὑμῶν ὅτι ἐγγίζει ἡ ἀπολύτρωσις ὑμῶν καὶ εἶπεν παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς [λέγων] ἰδού ἡ συκῆ ὅταν προβάλῃ γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος ἐστίν οὕτως ὅταν ἴδητε ταῦτα γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ὁ καιρός
    Total Words: 37 Total Words: 41 [42]
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 17 Total Words Taken Over in Mark: 17
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 45.95% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Mark: 41.46 [40.48]%

  • [92]
    Fig Tree parable
    Matthew’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν ὅταν ἤδη ὁ κλάδος αὐτῆς γένηται ἁπαλὸς καὶ τὰ φύλλα ἐκφύῃ γεινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ὅταν ἴδητε πάντα ταῦτα γεινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ἐπὶ θύραις ὅταν δὲ ἄρξονται ταῦτα γίνεσθαι ἀνακύψατε καὶ ἐπάρατε τὰς κεφαλὰς ὑμῶν ὅτι ἐγγίζει ἡ ἀπολύτρωσις ὑμῶν καὶ εἶπεν παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς [λέγων] ἰδού ἡ συκῆ ὅταν προβάλῃ γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος ἐστίν οὕτως ὅταν ἴδητε ταῦτα γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ὁ καιρός
    Total Words: 36 Total Words: 41 [42]
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 16 Total Words Taken Over in Matt.: 16
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 44.44% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Matt.: 39.02 [38.10]%

  • [93] See Young, JHJP, 141.
  • [94] See Jeremias, Parables, 119-120; Gaston, No Stone on Another, 35-37; Claus-Hunno Hunzinger, “συκῆ, σῦκον, ὄλυνθος, κ.τ.λ.,” TDNT, 7:751-759, esp. 757.
  • [95] See Vermes, Authentic, 123.

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