Who are the “Many Who Come from the East and West” in Matthew 8:10-12?

In Matthew 8:10-12 Jesus draws a contrast between the “sons of the kingdom” who will not participate in the eschatological feast and those who will. The ones who do recline at the table with Abraham are “many from the east and the west.” Just who the many who enter the banquet and sit at the head table in the eschatological banquet has been a matter of discussion in recent scholarship.

Great Feast Abraham Beyeren

Since Jeremias, the majority opinion is that the included “many” are believing Gentiles and that the excluded “sons of the kingdom” are unbelieving Jews (Jesus’ Promise to the Nations, 51). Jeremias gives five features of Jesus’ view of the eschatological pilgrimage of the Gentiles (57-60). First, God reveals himself to all humanity (Isa 2:2; 40:5). Second, God calls everyone to Zion (Isa 45:20–22). Third, the journey of the Gentiles to Zion, from Egypt and Assyria (Isa 2:3, 19:23). Fourth, the nations will worship at the “world–sanctuary” (Isa 56:7, 66:18). Last of all is the messianic banquet on the world–mountain (Isa 25:6–8). Matthew 8:11 is, for Jeremias, an interpretation of Malachi 1:11 highlighting the in–gathering of the Gentiles (62).

In a 1989 article, Dale Allison challenged this consensus opinion by arguing the “many from the east and the west” are Jews from the Diaspora rather than Gentiles replacing Jews at the eschatological feast. While he does not interact with Allison’s article, John Nolland argues a “re–application of the gathering of Israel to the gathering of the Gentiles is to claim too much.” Jewish eschatological thinking always allowed for Gentile participation in the Jewish eschatological gathering. (Matthew, 357).

Allison points out there is no text in the Hebrew Bible or the Second Temple Period, which describes Gentiles as coming from the east and west. Isaiah 59:19 describes a pilgrimage from the east and west when the Redeemer comes to Zion for those in Jacob who have turned from transgression. Psalm 107:3 describes Israel coming from the east, west, north and south. Philo (Spec. Leg. 1.69) uses this language (“from the east and west”) to describe the return of Diaspora Jews from Alexandria and Babylon to Jerusalem for festival days. For other texts describing a pilgrimage from the “east and west, north and south.” (See LXX Ps 106:2–3 [ET 107:2–3], Isa 43:5–6; Zech 8:7–8, 1 Enoch 57:1).

Psalms of Solomon 11 combines the gathering of the children of Zion (PsSol 11:2, cf. Isa 52:7; 54:1–4) with the voice of one bringing good news to Zion.

Psalms of Solomon 11.1–4 Sound in Zion the signal trumpet of the sanctuary; announce in Jerusalem the voice of one bringing good news, for God has been merciful to Israel in watching over them. 2 Stand on a high place, Jerusalem, and look at your children, from the east and the west assembled together by the Lord. 3 From the north they come in the joy of their God; from far distant islands God has assembled them. 4 He flattened high mountains into level ground for them; the hills fled at their coming.

The Zion is to clothe herself with garments of glory (PsSol 11:7, cf. Isa 52:1) because the way through the wilderness has been prepared by leveling the path and turning the desert into paradise (PsSol 11:4–5, cf. Isa 40:4, 41:17–18). This pilgrimage only concerns Jews scattered throughout the world as they return to Zion and Jerusalem.

Allison also argues that even if there is an allusion to an eschatological pilgrimage of the nations to Zion in Matthew 8:11, it cannot be assumed that the original hearers would have thought of this pilgrimage as universal salvation of Gentiles (163). Allison cites several Second Temple Period texts which show that the Gentile pilgrimage in the future will be one of judgment, not salvation. As early as Ezekiel 39 the nations come to Israel, but instead of finding salvation at an eschatological banquet, they are utterly destroyed and become the food for the banquet (Ezek 39:17–20).

Allison is correct that at least some streams of Second Temple Period Judaism did not envision a future conversion of the nations, but rather their destruction. The source for this diversity is the ambiguity is the foundation eschatological banquet text, Isa 25:6–8. In fact, this is the only text in the Hebrew Bible which may connect the pilgrimage of the nations to Zion with the messianic feast. In every other text, the nations travel to Zion to pay homage to the God of Israel, but the feast is celebrated only by Israel. Allison concludes that Jesus would not have turned the metaphor of the messianic banquet upside down by replacing Israel with the Gentiles. Rather, he was indicating that the Jews who thought they ought to be sharing in the messianic banquet will be replaced by other Jewish guests, perhaps even those from the Diaspora (165).

While agreeing with many of Allison’s points, Michael Bird nevertheless maintains that the consensus view is essentially correct (“Who Comes from the East and the West?,” 441–57). Bird points out the book of Isaiah has both a “pilgrimage of the Gentiles” (Isa 2:2–4) and an eschatological banquet (Isa 25:6–8). Allison does not think Jesus’ audience would have read the two texts together since there is no pilgrimage and conversion of the nations in the eschatological feast.

Following Craig Keener, Bird points out that Jesus and other Second Temple Period thinkers frequently read Isaiah synthetically. “Even if he drew on only a single text, [Jesus] understanding of that text would be informed by the others” (Keener, The Gospel of Matthew, 270, n.26). Similarly, Warren Carter is convinced Allison is correct about inclusion of the Diaspora but does not see this as a non–inclusion of the Gentiles (Matthew and the Margins, 203). The context of Matthew 8:8–10 is the compelling factor for Carter. Matthew has placed this saying into a context which highlights Gentile conversion.

If it was only Matthew inserting the saying into the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant, then perhaps Bird and Carter have a valid point. But the literary unit of Matthew 8–9 should be considered as a whole. This section is a series of miracles and conflict stories between two teaching sections (Matt 5–7 and 10).  In this larger section Jesus comes into contact with various outsiders: a leper, the demon–possessed, tax collectors, the blind and lame, as well as a Gentile. The faith of the Gentile centurion stands as part of a series of events which demonstrate that Jesus extends mercy to the outsiders.

In fact, there is nothing in Matthew 8:5–13 which anticipates the Gentile mission which would have been the case when Matthew finally wrote his Gospel. If Matthew were creating a story to show that Jesus was extending salvation to the Gentiles, then Jesus should have shared a meal with the Gentile as he did the (Jewish) tax–collectors and other sinners in Matt 9:9–13. That the centurion knows it is not lawful for Jesus to enter his home may imply that this man was a God–fearing Gentile not unlike Cornelius (Acts 10:28). Luke describes the Centurion as a patron of the Synagogue at Capernaum (Luke 7:4–5).

When read within the context of Matthew’s gospel, this saying about an eschatological banquet does not so much refer to geographical Diaspora Jews, but rather a sociological Diaspora. An additional factor is the placement of the saying in Luke 13:29, where there is no hint of Gentile salvation in Luke. In fact, read within the context of Luke–Acts, the “many from the east and west” are in fact Diaspora Jews gathered at Pentecost who hear the preaching of the Apostles and receive the Holy Spirit.

In summary, this saying is an explicit reference to the eschatological banquet. But Jesus expands the banquet to include people on the fringes of the Jewish life. The saying is less about a future banquet than Jesus’s ongoing ministry of table fellowship. Only a chapter later, many do in fact come to sit with Jesus and celebrate with him as a bridegroom (Matt 9:9–13).

 

 

 

Mark 6:30-44 – The Feeding of the 5000

In the previous post I pointed out that Jesus’ miracles function as some kind of self-revelation. He says something about himself and his mission when he heals or casts out demons. Perhaps one of the best example of this is the miraculous feeding of a large crowd, a miracle so important that it is found in all four gospels.

Fish and bread mosaic from Tagbha

The feeding of the 5000 is a symbolic miracle in which Jesus departs to a lonely place and provides a crowd with miraculous food in the wilderness. Everyone eats until they are satisfied and there is a great quantity which remains. As early as Albert Schweitzer, this event has been seen as an anticipation of the eschatological feast. Schweitzer thought that the “messianic feast therefore played a dominant part in the conception of blessedness from Enoch to the Apocalypse of John” (Quest, [London: A & C Black, 1931], 377).

Many commentators also see this miracle is an anticipation of the messianic banquet. France, for example, says that “for those with eyes to see it, this will be a foretaste of the messianic banquet” (Mark, 260.) Similarly, James Dunn says that a shared meal in a desolate place “would probably carry strong messianic overtones to those with even half an ear” (Jesus Remembered, 646). There are a number of elements of banquet in this miraculous feeding that make it likely that Mark (and Matthew) intended this event to be seen as an anticipation of the messianic banquet. In fact, the miracle is an example of an intertextual blending of Wilderness tradition and eschatological banquet texts.

First, the miracle enacts the expectations of Isa 40-55, specifically that Israel would re-gather in the wilderness and re-experience the wilderness events. This includes the provision of food at the hand of their God. The event occurs in the wilderness or a “lonely place. The people are being fed in the wilderness, calling to mind the Wilderness tradition. Wright, for example, correctly points out that not only is the location of this even significant, but also the fact that the people are fed in the wilderness and immediately after the feeding the Lord works a great miracle at the Red Sea, just as Jesus will do a great miracle on the sea (Jesus and the Victory of God, 193).

There are other allusions to Wilderness tradition here. When Jesus sees the great crowd he is move with compassion and observes that they are “like sheep without a shepherd.” This is an allusion to Num 27:15-23. Just prior to Moses death, he asks the Lord to appoint a leader over the people, so that they will not be like sheep without a shepherd. They are seated in συμπόσιον, or “eating parties.” The groupings are in of fifty and a hundred evokes the wilderness tradition as well. In Exod 18:21, 25 Moses divides the people up into groups of “a thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Num 31:14).

Second, after the crowd eats the food, they are described as satisfied (Mark 6:42). Eating bread in the wilderness naturally recalls, manna, although only the gospel of John makes this allusion explicit. The verb χορτάζω (to “be satisfied”), however, appears in the Psalms several times in clear wilderness tradition. In LXX Ps 80:17 [ET 16] the word is used to describe the food provided in the wilderness. In Ps 106:9, the psalmist describes the satisfaction of the people when the Lord fed them in the wilderness at the end of the exile. This Psalm begins with a gathering of the people after the exile from every direction. Some have passed through the wilderness yet the Lord led them on a straight path back to the Land where he “satisfies their soul.” In Ps 131:15 χορτάζω appears in the context of the restoration of Zion. Zion is personified as a woman who will have abundant provisions, her poor “will be satisfied with bread.” There are a number of places in the LXX where this word describes the abundance of the eschatological age (Isaiah 33:5).

This  miraculous feeding in the wilderness is therefore an allusion to the tradition of an eschatological banquet at the beginning of the new age. In all four Gospels Jesus reveals his messianic intentions by hosting a meal in wilderness for a “new Israel.” Jesus is not doing the miracle simply to meet the physical need of his audience, but rather to evoke whole streams of tradition from the Hebrew Bible, proclaiming that the messianic age has begun.

Dissertation Update and Realized Eschatology

I get questions all the time about the state of my PhD dissertation.  For the last year it has been more or less done, although like the coming kingdom, it is “already finished” but “not yet done.”  But this morning I handed in the “final” copy of my dissertation today to the PhD secretary.  While she savages my work with a red pen, the search for an outside reader continues.  I do not yet have a defense date, but it is looking more like early spring and a May graduation.

I am also frequently asked what my dissertation is on.  After all this time writing it, I am not even sure, so I randomly drew biblical studies buzz-words words out of a hat and entitled it “The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels: An Intertextual Study.”  I suppose I might have to change it if it turns out Eugene Peterson already used that title, but that is the title for now.

I am quite happy that the glacier-like process has finally begun to move.  I have a number of projects I want to work on which have been on the back-burner waiting to finish my up my degree.  Looks like I will be able to devote more time to a few of these writing projects soon.  Of course, the first step after graduation will be getting my dissertation published.

The “Not Yet” is looking a bit more like the “Already.”

Psalm 23 – An Eschatological Reading (Part 2)

In a previous post I argued that Psalm 23 should be read as a corporate song expressing the hope Israel has in their God as a Good Shepherd.  The song is laced with messianic hope for a future true Shepherd who will lead them out of the “valley of the shadow of death” to the House of the Lord, where they will live forever.  As I stated previously, the two metaphors (God as shepherd and God as host) are common metaphors expressing messianic hope in the Hebrew Bible and they are often paired (Ezekiel 34 and Isa 40-55, for example).

The presence of the Shepherd is a comfort to the flock.  Unlike Psalm 22, the worshiper feels the presence of God in a very real way and he is comforted by this.   While it is true that “to comfort does not mean to sympathize but to encourage,” (HALOT, 689, citing Elliger), the word has a very tender and compassionate undertone. It is often associated with comforting someone after the death of a loved one.  The word is used in Gen 37:35 to describe the effort of the family to comfort Jacob after Joseph appears to have been killed (cf. Jer 16:17).

The word appears in several Messianic contexts.  In Isa 61:2 the activities of the “anointed one” includes comforting those who mourn. This is the text Jesus read in Nazareth at the beginning of this ministry, directly applying it to himself as the Messiah, the good Shepherd who will comfort the one who mourns.  In Isa 66:13, when Jerusalem is restored, she will be comforted by the Lord as a mother comforts her child.

There are a number of texts which describe God as tenderly comforting Israel (Isa 1:21; Ps 71:21 86:17 119:82; God comforts his people Isa 49:13, 52:9, 66:13, God comforts Zion, Isa 51:3; Zech 1:17; Isa 51:12 Jer 31:13, Lam 2:13; Ps 119:76, with hesed).  Perhaps most significant for the argument I am making here is Jer 31:13 which describes the future time when God makes a New Covenant with his people.  “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.”  The future age will be characterized by a reversal of Israel’s mourning (Lam 2:13).  Instead she will rejoice as the Lord tenderly comforts her.

Verse five has three metaphors which are usually found in the context of the Messiah elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. A Banquet Table

Preparing a Table – Messianic Banquet.  This is a banquet eaten in the presence of the enemy.  This may be a result of a treaty (the enemy is invited to eat with the King who conquered them), or more likely the table is spread on the field of battle and the enemy is destroyed. To “spread a table” implies a sumptuous meal. While the word table can refer to any meal, it is used for a king’s banquet (Judg 1:7 1Sam 20:29, 34, 2Sam 9:7,10, 11, 13; 19:29 1Kings  2:7, 5:7 10:5 / 2 Chron 9:4; Dan 11:27; Neh 5:17), this does not have to be a table, but rugs spread out on the ground for a king to eat a banquet, as Isa 21:5.   The term is used of an eschatological banquet in Isa 65:11, the Lord sets a table for Fortune, and in Ps 78:19 it refers to God setting a table in the wilderness, in Prov 9:2 Lady Wisdom has prepared a table.)

Anointing with Oil – Messiah.  This is not the word typically used for anointed which becomes the title Messiah. The verb דשן in the piel has the connotation of refreshment or enrichment.  But since the object is the psalmist’s head, and oil is used to “refresh his head,” anointing with oil seems to be the meaning.  It is used in another messianic text, Psalm 45:7. The cognate noun is used to describe foods at the eschatological banquet, they are “fatty” (Isa 55:2, Jer 31:4, cf. Ps 36:9, 63:6, 65:12 for rich, abundant foods).  This word is also a connection between the end of Psalm 22 and Psalm 23. Psalm 22:30 may use a rare form of this verb meaning “grow fat.”

Overflowing Cup – The banquet described is abundant, the worshiper’s cup (goblet) of wine is never empty, it overflows.  The word is rare in the Hebrew Bible, but in cognate languages the verb has the idea of satisfaction of appetite and even drunkenness, but also irrigation, springs, a good water supply.

The psalm began with an affirmation of faith in the gracious provision of the Lord even in the midst of suffering, but it ends with a future hope that the Lord’s people will dwell in his presence forever.

Despite the fact that we tend to personalize Psalm 23, read in the context of the Hebrew Bible, it is likely that God as Shepherd implies Israel as sheep.  As the nation passes through the valley of the shadow of death, they need not be afraid since the Lord defends them and will comfort them when they suffer.