dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label temptations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label temptations. Show all posts

Saturday 8 October 2016

A further reply to Jonathan Burke on the devil in the Gospel temptation stories

1. Idiosyncrasies and Scholarly Consensus
2. History of Religions
3. Genre and Form
4. Matthew's Mountain
5. Alleged Rabbinic Parallels
6. Conclusion

In this article I respond to Jonathan Burke's article in an ongoing online dialogue over the interpretation of ὁ διάβολος in the temptation stories (TS) in Matthew 4, Luke 4 and Mark 1. My original exegetical works, which interacted with Christadelphian interpretations of the TS, can be found here and here; a summary of the findings of both of these studies is here. Burke critiqued my studies here (part of a larger series responding to various other articles of mine). I responded to Burke's critique with a series of four blog posts (1234), and Burke's latest article (actually over a year old by now) is what I am addressing now.1

In the interest of conciseness and time management, I will not be referring to academic literature to support every claim - particularly claims for which I have done so in previous installments in this series. Any reader who shares Burke's conviction that I have a 'complete lack of familiarity with the relevant scholarship' is encouraged to consult the bibliography and supplementary online materials pertaining to my two co-authored studies on New Testament Satanology recently published in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament.2 Instead of replying point-by-point I will make observations on some of the key issues that have been raised. I will also try to follow my self-imposed rules of engagement for online theological discussions, including avoidance of a discussion about the discussion. I would ask Burke to do the same if he opts to carry the discussion further.

1. Idiosyncrasies and Scholarly Consensus

First, I want to comment on the issue of 'idiosyncratic' interpretations. Burke brought this term into the discussion, labelling my interpretation of the TS as idiosyncratic. Well, my interpretation of one small aspect of one of the TS may be idiosyncratic (namely, how Jesus was able to see all the kingdoms of the world from atop a very high mountain in Matthew's version). However, the main point of contention (the meaning of ὁ διάβολος/ὁ σατανᾶς in the TS) does not rest on the validity of my interpretation of this detail. This is obvious since, despite not sharing my 'idiosyncratic' interpretation of the mountaintop experience, the vast majority of scholars share my view on the meaning of ὁ διάβολος.

Thus, when it comes to weighing the scholarly support for Burke's position and mine, the most important point is that Burke's interpretation of the term ὁ διάβολος itself (namely, that it refers to a personification of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination in human nature, and not to a personal being) has very little support in either the academy or the church. Burke admits this: he says that 'the declared aim of my article is to challenge the existing consensus that the temptation account is mythological'. He also admits, 'my view that Jesus was tempted by his own desires is marginal within scholarship', but avers that it is 'certainly not idiosyncratic', citing two scholars in support of this interpretation. One is Kesich, who in a work on early church history devotes all of three sentences to the TS.3 While Kesich says that the TS have been 'translated into figurative language', he does not state that the devil in the TS is a figurative way of referring to Jesus' own desires.4 The other is Lachs, who agrees more closely with Burke's interpretation but still not exactly.5 It is worth noting the language with which Lachs introduces this interpretation, which indicates a speculative suggestion rather than a firm claim: 'the confrontation with Satan could be seen as Jesus’ struggle with himself and overcoming the yezer hara'. Moreover, the only scholarly review of Lachs' Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament of which I am aware pans his work for its 'sloppy editing', 'errors of fact and interpretation', 'outdated scholarship' and 'uncritical methodology'.6

Leaving aside these three sources of questionable academic weight,7 one finds virtually no support for the ὁ διάβολος = yetzer hara interpretation of the TS in relevant monographs and exegetical journal articles on the TS or technical commentaries on the Synoptic Gospels. Thus, 'marginal' is an apt adjective to use for the status of Burke's interpretation (this seems to be one of the few areas of agreement between Burke and myself on the TS). Since Burke is challenging a near-unanimous scholarly consensus, my recommendation would be that he submit his exegesis of the TS to a peer-reviewed biblical studies journal so that it can be tried in the court of scholarly opinion, rather than limiting himself to blog posts. Furthermore, Burke needs to provide detailed commentary on the Matthaean and Lucan TS to explain what every clause would mean under his interpretation of ὁ διάβολος and show why this interpretation has, overall, more explanatory power than the standard view down to the level of syntax. To my knowledge, despite writing extensively on the TS he has yet to do this.

2. History of Religions

One of Burke's three arguments against the scholarly consensus that ὁ διάβολος in the TS refers to a cosmic foe is a history of religions argument:
the most common terms used in pre-Christian Second Temple literature for a supernatural evil being, are not used in the Synoptics. In fact most of them are not used in the New Testament at all (Beliar is used once). In contrast, the terms used in the Synoptic temptation accounts have almost no pre-Christian witness in Second Temple literature as a reference to a specific supernatural evil being.
More specifically, Burke claims:
In Second Temple Period literature the term ‘satan’ (whether in Hebrew or Greek), is predominantly used as a common noun rather than a personal name, the term ‘the devil’ (ὁ diaboloV), is rarely if ever used to refer to a supernatural evil being, and the terms ‘the tempter’ (ὁ peirazwn), and ‘the evil one’ (ὁ ponēroV), have no pre-Christian witness with such a meaning. The term satan, whether in Greek (satanaV), or Hebrew (śāṭān), is used rarely in pre-Christian literature and never as a proper name.
I have so far not responded in detail to these religion-historical claims, partly because I intend to make a study of the origins of early Christian Satanology against the background of Second Temple Judaism the topic of my Honours dissertation over the next year. So I hope in due course to address these issues in detail. For now, I will limit myself to five observations.

1) The term ὁ δίαβολος is used in Job 1-2 LXX and Zech. 3:1-2 LXX. In both cases, ὁ δίαβολος refers to a cosmic being, and in the first case, ὁ δίαβολος has a testing function: he solicits God to bring calamity into Job's life because he believes this will induce Job to sin ('stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face' - Job 1:11; cf. 2:5).8 If I have understood Burke correctly, he regards these texts as irrelevant to the interpretation of the TS because ὁ δίαβολος may be an obedient servant of God rather than an enemy of God (as is widely believed for הַשָּׂטָן in Job and Zechariah MT). However, this feature does not derail the significance of the parallel, because the notion of Satan as God's servant (and prosecutor) continues even in the New Testament. After surveying the evidence, Page concludes:
The Bible portrays Satan as an implacable enemy of God, whose designs on humanity are malicious; however, it does not represent Satan as God’s equal or as one who acts independently of divine control. In the prologue of Job, the oldest text that speaks of a celestial Satan figure, he is clearly pictured as one who is subordinate to God and who operates only within the parameters that God sets for him. Although there is incontrovertible evidence of change and development in the concept of Satan in the biblical literature, this basic notion that Satan is under divine control appears repeatedly. This motif may stand in a certain degree of tension with the conception of Satan as a hostile force, but it is a persistent theme in the biblical record. Satan is an enemy of God, but he is also a servant of God.9
Moreover, we have pre-Christian evidence for the devil as an unambiguously evil being. There is a Jewish pseudepigraphon referred to by some as the Assumption of Moses, by others as the Testament of Moses, and by still others as the Moses fragment because of its uncertain identification with either of these two lost works. It is extant only in a Latin translation from Greek, which was probably the original language.10 It 'dates from the early years of the first century C.E.';11 Grierson estimates the terminus ad quem (latest possible date) at 30 C.E.12 The text contains the following apocalyptic prediction:
And then his (i.e. God's) kingdom will appear in his entire creation. And then the devil will come to an end, and sadness will be carried away together with him. (Testament of Moses 10.1)13
The Latin word translated 'devil' here is zabulus, which is an 'orthographic variant' of diabolus,14 the Latin transliteration of διάβολος. Because Latin lacks the definite article, we cannot be certain whether the Greek read ὁ διάβολος or just διάβολος. However, it seems clear that an individual being is in view, and that he is evil since he will come to an end.15 It is also worth noting that the ending of this document, which is lost but presumably contained an account of Moses' death, is widely regarded by scholars as the source of the allusion in Jude 9 to a quarrel between Michael and the devil over Moses' body.16

2) For similar reasons, הַשָּׂטָן in Job 1-2 and Zech. 3:1-2 is relevant to the interpretation of ὁ σατανᾶς in Mark 1:13 and Matt. 4:10. There are numerous other occurrences of the term 'satan' in Second Temple literature that support a cosmic referent in the TS. I will leave discussion of these for a later date once I've completed my dissertation, but for now I would draw attention to one obvious instance: Paul's assertion in 2 Cor. 11:14 that 'even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light'. Even apart from Paul's identity as a Christian, this is a relevant reference to ὁ σατανᾶς in a Second Temple Jewish text which predates the Gospels by only a few years (Mark) or decades (Matthew), and clearly places Satan in a cosmic, rather than anthropological, context. Earlier in the same epistle, Paul uses the term 'Beliar' (2 Cor. 6:15), which Burke recognizes (as Belial) among the 'established Second Temple terms for supernatural Satan figures' (my emphasis). Moreover, this text ticks all the boxes for the definition of cosmological dualism that Burke uses: 'the world is divided into two opposing forces of good and evil, darkness and light'. 2 Cor. 6:15 explicitly draws an antithesis between 'righteousness and lawlessness', 'darkness and light', and 'Christ' (supernatural, personal leader of the forces of light) and 'Beliar'.17 Burke does not mention any New Testament texts (even those that pre-date the Gospels) in his survey of the background to the Satanological terminology in the Synoptic Gospels.

Is 'satan' a proper name in Second Temple Jewish literature outside the New Testament? Burke says no:
The term satan, whether in Greek (satanaV), or Hebrew (śāṭān), is used rarely in pre-Christian literature and never as a proper name. Consequently, Laato notes that ‘we lack an established tradition whereby the name of the personal Evil or the leader of demons is Satan’.
The link-word 'Consequently' leaves the reader with the impression that Laato agrees with the judgment that 'satan' is never used in pre-Christian literature as a proper name. In fact, he suggests in the same article that שָׂטָן may have transitioned to a proper name ‘already in the Old Testament’, that ‘there is no obstacle to regarding Satan in 1 Chronicles 21 as a proper name’, and that the word could, linguistically speaking, function as a proper name in Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3 despite the presence of the definite article.18

In fact, however, the question of whether 'satan' functions as a proper name in the Old Testament, Second Temple Jewish literature or the New Testament is not of decisive importance. Stokes, for instance, does not see evidence of early use of 'Satan' as a proper name. Nevertheless, he sees clear evidence for the emergence of an individualized Satan figure:
Two passages in the Hebrew Scriptures speak of a superhuman figure not simply as a satan, but as the Satan (Zech 3; Job 1-2). The definite article on the noun (הַשָּׂטָן) suggests the notion of a particular figure who holds the office of "Attacker/Executioner" in the divine court... The Hebrew Scriptures contain several different kinds of satans. They speak of humans in the capacity of attackers or executioners as satans. They speak of heavenly satans, serving the Deity as executioners of the wicked. They also speak of a particular satan, the Satan, who serves God as attacker or executioner of the wicked and, in the case of Job, as attacker of a righteous person. While it was this individual, the Satan, who especially piqued the imaginations of earlier interpreters and who would become the best known of the satans, early Jewish literature would continue to speak of other satans as well.19
After surveying Second Temple literature, he concludes:
In the Hebrew Scriptures and early Jewish writings, "satan" refers generically to an attacker or executioner. And many kinds of attackers/executioners could be called a satan. Some are human; others are superhuman. Some of them are something akin to evil spirits or demons. One of them is the Satan.20
Against this background, it does not really matter whether we consider ὁ σατανᾶς in the New Testament to be a 'personal name' or a 'definite title'.21 What matters is that it is not a common noun but the designation of a particular superhuman individual, which could be rendered in English either with 'Satan' (if understood as a personal name) or 'the Satan' (if understood as a definite title).

3) In his history-of-religions survey of Satanological terminology in the Synoptic Gospels, Burke restricts his attention to 'pre-Christian literature'. This is a serious methodological shortcoming for two reasons. (1) Christian literature that pre-dates the Synoptic Gospels (especially the Pauline epistles) is arguably the most relevant background data of all (see above). (2) Ancient texts which are likely to post-date the Synoptic Gospels are not irrelevant, especially if the temporal proximity is close. Although they obviously do not carry the same weight as sources that pre-date the Synoptic Gospels, they still help to fill in the religion-historical milieu in which the Synoptic evangelists wrote. Burke can hardly dispute this since he introduces much later rabbinic texts as the closest literary parallels to his interpretation of the devil in the TS.

4) In discussing the background to the term 'the evil one' Burke has inadequately represented his key source. Burke cites Black's discussion of Matt. 6:13b to support his claim that 'the evil one' (ὁ πονηρὸς) 'has no Second Temple pre-Christian witness as a reference to a supernatural evil being'. He summarizes Black's point thus:
Summarizing the lexicographical evidence, Black notes ‘this term or designation for Satan is, outside the New Testament and dependent patristic writings, nowhere attested in classical, Hellenistic, or Jewish Greek sources’, which he gives as the reason against reading it as ‘the evil one’ even in Matthew.
However, while Black was summarizing previous scholars' conclusions about the background to the term ὁ πονηρὸς, Black himself proceeds to dispute this summary, discussing two Jewish texts, one of which is a pre-Christian Second Temple text that, in his view, uses the term 'the evil one' (in Hebrew) for Satan. These texts are 4Q Amramb, 4Q280, 286 (287) and Targum of Isa. 11.4. Black's own conclusion is as follows:
these two sets of texts...are the only passages in Jewish literature where the designations רשיעא/הרשע are used for Satan or a manifestation of Satan. The designation, however seems almost an inevitable one for the Prince of Darkness, so that it may well have been in more frequent use in Judaism than its extremely rare occurrence suggests? Was it perhaps dropped by the Synagogue when it was adopted by the early Church, in its almost literal Greek equivalent ὁ πονηρὸς? Such a term would no doubt commend itself widely as a general concept, immediately intelligible in the Hellenistic world, whereas the Hebrew/Aramaic terminology for Satan must have sounded strange and foreign in Greek ears.22
Hence, Black not only presents evidence (including a pre-Christian Second Temple text) for the use of 'the evil one' for a supernatural being, but also does not think that the paucity of evidence is particularly problematic. We are dealing with a low standard of research when one cites a source to support an argument from silence without reporting that the same source counters both the silence and the argument! Unfortunately, Burke repeats the same omission in his recent peer-reviewed publication when arguing that ὁ πονηρὸς does not refer to a supernatural evil being in Didache 8.2.23 Perhaps Burke would claim in his defense that he was interested only in the Greek term ὁ πονηρὸς and not its Hebrew equivalent; but this would be inexplicable since in the very same paragraph he shows concern for usage of 'satan' 'whether in Hebrew or Greek'.

Moreover, Burke's background survey inexplicably excludes the fairly widespread use of ὁ πονηρὸς for Satan in other early Christian texts, some of which may predate Matthew (Eph. 6:16; 2 Thess. 3:3; John 17:15; 1 John 2:13-14; 3:12; 5:18-19; Barnabas 2.10; 21.3; cf. 4.13). While Burke would no doubt dispute that 'the evil one' refers to a supernatural being in any of the New Testament texts, he concedes elsewhere that this is the case in the Epistle of Barnabas. Hence, despite the extremely rare use of 'the evil one' for a supernatural being in Second Temple literature, it is historically certain that this term was in Christian use as a designation for a supernatural Satan within a few decades of the destruction of the temple. The question is when, not whether, the designation entered the Christian vocabulary; and the burden of proof lies with Burke to show that Pseudo-Barnabas understands the term differently than the various NT writers.

5) I previously (following Kelly) identified four parallels to the TS which consisted of a righteous man being tempted by a supernatural being: Abraham being tempted by an unclean bird identified as Azazel in the Apocalypse of Abraham, Mastema's request to tempt Abraham in Jubilees, stories about the Angel of Death and Moses, and Beliar's three nets in the Damascus Document. Burke did not regard this evidence as a problem for his interpretation because:
Firstly, the tempter or challenger in each case is not a supernatural opponent of God, but an obedient servant, whether Azazel, Mastema, the Angel of Death or Beliar. Secondly, in none of these cases is a righteous man tempted by a supernatural being called Satan.
In all these texts, as in the standard interpretation of the TS, we have a supernatural tempter tempting a righteous man. This is a striking parallel, and it is not clear why Burke dismisses it on the grounds that these tempters have a better relationship with God than the devil in the TS (which is itself debatable.24) A possibly different moral disposition of the supernatural tempter does not imply that 'There are no Old Testament or Second Temple parallels to the temptation accounts'! Again, it is not clear how the parallel is invalidated simply because the supernatural tempter has a different name in each of these stories. Burke himself refers to Mastema, Belial and Azazel as 'supernatural Satan figures'.

3. Genre and Form

Burke accuses me of an internally inconsistent 'hermeneutic of convenience' in that I object to classifying the TS as haggadic midrash and yet appeal to midrashic parallels. Rather, my argument runs as follows:

(1) It is debatable whether the TS can be classified form-critically as haggadic midrash.
(2) Even if we classify the TS form-critically as haggadic midrash, it is debatable how helpful this category is for understanding the TS in their canonical form.
(3) Even if we classify the TS form-critically as haggadic midrash, this supports rather than undermines mythological interpretation of the tempter, since the closest midrashic parallels involve supernatural tempters.

Hence, my argument was that regardless of the position we take on the 'haggadic midrash' issue, we do not have grounds for rejecting a mythological interpretation of ὁ διάβολος. (Hence why a 'haggadic midrash' view of the TS has considerable support but the ὁ διάβολος = yetzer hara view does not.)

I reiterate that Burke does not adequately distinguish between the form of the TS tradition and the final literary products of Matthew and Luke. Even if the temptation dialogue in Q originated as an invented midrash based loosely on trials Jesus faced (a view I reject), it is obviously neither Matthew nor Luke who composed it. Hence, Burke needs to show not merely that the TS was understood as midrash rather than historical narrative at some pre-canonical stage of development; he needs to show that Matthew and Luke so understood it.25 This requires close attention to how Matthew and Luke incorporate the tradition into their wider narrative. This is where narrative criticism comes in - a methodology that Burke has heretofore ignored, despite his protest to the contrary.26 This is also why the syntactic features that I stressed in my original study remain decisive: they show that the events and dialogue are narrated in a way typical of the Gospels' stories. Although the differences between Matthew's and Luke's TS show that at least one of them has redacted rather freely, neither evangelist gives any indication of a shift in genre. It should also be noted that even if the pre-canonical TS underwent dramatic theological expansion, we can be quite certain that the term ὁ διάβολος is not dramatic theological expansion but was part of the story before this expansion occurred, since the synonymous term ὁ σατανᾶς is present in Mark's version of the TS, which is independent of Q and lacks its (alleged) 'dramatic expansion'.

I reiterate that Burke has not adequately interacted with the notion of myth as a literary genre or category in Gospel interpretation. His discussion of myth is limited to his claim that the Synoptic Gospels do not reflect cosmological dualism and that the Synoptic Satan/devil is not a cosmological figure. He describes the following as a 'line of evidence' against reading the TS mythologically:
Ethical dualism and psychological dualism are dominant in the Synoptics, rather than the cosmological dualism which would be expected if a supernatural evil being was present in the temptation accounts.
This, however, is simply an assertion of his conclusion; it is not evidence. And if we turn to Burke's article on dualism in the Synoptics where we might expect to find this point argued in detail, we simply find a definition of three kinds of dualism, and no evidence or argumentation that ethical and psychological dualism is dominant in the Synoptics while cosmological dualism is absent. One would certainly expect to find an extensive discussion of texts such as the Beelzebul Controversy, the parable of the strong man, the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Matt. 25:31, 41 and Luke 10:18-19 as part of any claim that cosmological dualism is lacking in the Synoptic Gospels.

4. Matthew's Mountain

The issue of the 'very high mountain' in Matt. 4:8 has long been the cornerstone of Christadelphian interpretation of the TS.27 There is no mountain on earth from which one can see all the kingdoms of the world, and this point is used to rule out a literal reading of the entire TS, justifying a figurative interpretation even of ὁ διάβολος. However, Matthew's mountain is not nearly the exegetical trump card that Christadelphians make it out to be.

Moreover, it is not true, as Burke claims, that I acknowledge 'that the description of the satan [sic] taking Jesus to a mountain high enough to see all the kingdoms of the world is impossible to read literally, and (resort) to describing this experience as a supernatural experience'. Rather, I argue that the description is possible to take literally precisely because it is a supernatural experience. My own suggestion is that Jesus was transported to the top of a literal mountain where he had a mystical experience. Burke describes this interpretation, with some justification, as idiosyncratic. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I do not need to prove conclusively that it is correct. Indeed, I do not even need it to be correct. To neutralize the 'mountain problem rules out historical narrative' argument, I only need to show that there are plausible ways to understand the mountain within an 'historical narrative' reading of the TS. And several such ways can be found in the scholarly literature. Accordingly I would make the following observations.

1) Classifying a pericope as historical narrative does not commit the exegete to a woodenly literal interpretation of every last detail. For instance, I do not, by virtue of my approach to the TS, feel compelled to infer from Matt. 4:4 that Matthew thought God to have a literal mouth (though he may have done). That said, I see no reason to doubt that Matthew had a literal mountain in mind (whether a known mountain in Israel, a cosmic mountain or a heavenly mountain).

2) Since Matthew and Luke differ on the mountain detail, it is uncertain whether the mountain was in Q and dropped by Luke, or whether the mountain was introduced by Matthew. Seemingly, the majority of scholars favour the first option,28 but there is also considerable support for the second.29 Let us consider the implications of both possibilities.

a. What if the mountain was present in Q, and omitted by Luke? This suggests that the mountain was part of the story very early. The words 'very' and/or 'high' may be redactional in Matthew even if 'mountain' is not.30 If the TS is regarded as authentic history, then one possibility is that the devil took Jesus to the top of an actual mountain in Israel. This finds support in the identification of Mount Tabor as the mountain of temptation in the Gospel of the Hebrews.31 (The identification of a specific, literal mountain suggests that the author of the Gospel of the Hebrews understood the account literally.) How could Jesus have seen 'all the kingdoms of the world' from the top of Mount Tabor or another mountain in Israel? He couldn't have, naturally - just as Moses couldn't have naturally seen all the places that Deut. 34:1-4 says he saw from the top of Mount Nebo. So, as noted previously, the TS, like Deuteronomy, implies some kind of supernatural, mystical experience atop the mountain. This is not a particularly radical suggestion given that Matthew records a supernatural, mystical experience in his only other reference to a high mountain (Matt. 17:1ff).

The second issue, if the mountain was present in Q, is why Luke omitted it. Luke simply has the devil 'take Jesus up'. This is significant because Luke's TS must be interpreted in its own right and not simply harmonized with Matthew's: it is possible that Luke and Matthew understood the TS differently. Thus, whatever the implications of the 'mountain problem', the exegete must still deal with Luke, where this problem is absent. Scholars have made several suggestions as to why Luke may have chosen to omit the mountain. One popular suggestion is that Luke is concerned to emphasise the temporal aspect of the panorama ('at a moment of time') than the spatial aspect ('to a very high  mountain').32 Others think Luke was embarrassed by the idea of Jesus seeing all the kingdoms of the world from a very high mountain because he knew no such mountain existed.33 Hence, his redaction serves to depict this temptation as 'visionary or imaginary',34 or alternatively as a heavenly journey,35 whether of the body36 or (less plausibly in my view) the soul.37 Whatever the case, Luke is explicitly concerned with ensuring his account is believable as historical narrative.38 If the whole episode were a dramatic theological expansion, we would not expect such historiographical concern.

b. What if the mountain was added by Matthew? (As noted above, a separate possibility is that the mountain was present in Q but 'very high' was added by Matthew.) Given the important theological role that mountains play in Matthew's narrative (cf. Matt. 5:1; 17:1; 28:16), this would presumably have been done to add a theological flourish to the story. If so, then if the TS basically recounts authentic historical events, the 'very high mountain' is not part of that authentic history and we can call back the Sherpas from the search for it. The actual historical events might then have included a heavenly journey (as Luke seems to imply), 'whether in the body or out of the body'. There remains the question of how Matthew understood the 'very high mountain' that he added to the story. This has been discussed in a previous article: possibly Matthew and his earliest readers understood it literally à la Donaldson's 'cosmic mountain' motif. They might well have believed that such a mountain existed. That it does not in fact exist means we must read the narrative critically, not figuratively. Alternatively, Matthew may have envisioned the mountain as a heavenly mountain as per Orlov's suggestion.

3) I reiterate that understanding the TS as a mystical experience is consistent with it being a historical narrative. Even if the TS were to be interpreted as an imaginary or dream-like experience, this would not imply that ὁ διάβολος lacked external existence any more than appearances of angels in dreams (Matt. 1:20; 2:13; 2:19) imply that those angels lacked external existence. However, while I am willing to allow for a mystical aspect to the temptations (i.e. a heavenly journey in Luke and a mountaintop visionary experience in Matthew), I think the TS clearly describe a physical bodily experience. 2 Cor. 12:2-4 shows that Second Temple Jews could conceive of mystical experiences as being either physical or non-physical. More importantly, all three temptations entail the involvement of Jesus' body (eating, leaping, prostrating). A temptation to throw oneself off a high building is meaningless if imaginary: it could not really be acted upon (and Jesus would be able to mount a robust defense against any claim that he was morally responsible for an act he performed within a dream). When actually standing at the top of a high building peering over the edge, it is a different matter.

4) I reiterate that, in a first century Jewish or Roman context, 'all the kingdoms of the world' does not mean 'every inch of the earth known since the Copernican revolution to be spherical'. It means all the kingdoms of 'a flat earth limited to the Mediterranean world'.39 We should not infer that, if the TS are historical narrative, Jesus must have gazed upon New Guinea, Cape Horn and the Kamchatka Peninsula. In insisting that 'the Roman Empire and its environs' is 'a poor temptation for a man who was promised rulership of the entire world by God', Burke is imposing a theological reading that is far removed from the first century context. In any case, I readily concede that it is not possible with natural human vision to see the whole Mediterranean world from any mountain in the Mediterranean world. However, Jesus' companion is explicitly capable of transporting him great distances to great elevations, and Luke's ἐν στιγμῇ χρόνου makes the supernatural character of the 'showing' unmistakable. Within such a narrative context, it makes little sense to limit the range of Jesus' eyesight on the mountaintop to what would be naturally possible.

As is evident from the above, there are several plausible ways of explaining Matthew's 'very high mountain' which do not conclude either (a) that he intended the entire TS to be read figuratively, including ὁ διάβολος; or (b) that there must be a stupendous physical mountain somewhere on earth from which the entire globe is visible.

5. Alleged Rabbinic Parallels

Burke introduces new evidence in the form of four rabbinic texts. The first two texts, in Burke's words, 'show the yetzer personified to the point that it is depicted as an independent being, even while being identified as an internal impulse to sin'.

Now in terms of the admissibility of this evidence, it is noteworthy Burke here uses rabbinic texts written centuries after the New Testament, and deems them relevant to the exegesis of the TS, whereas in his history-of-religions survey of Synoptic Satanological terminology, he is only prepared to place significant weight on pre-Christian Second Temple Jewish texts. For instance, concerning the Testament of Job, he judges that 'its very uncertain date precludes its use as a reliable source of contextual data for the New Testament.' However, the latest date in the range usually assigned to the Testament of Job is still earlier than the rabbinic literature cited by Burke, to which he does appeal as a reliable source of contextual data for the New Testament. This is a clear methodological inconsistency. Moreover, Burke certainly overstates things when he concludes based on these texts that a particular literary device 'was well established in Judaism at least as early as the Tannaitic period.' For one of the texts he cites (Sifre Numbers), the final redaction may be dated in the 'mid to late-third century', 'towards the end of the tannaitic period'.40 For the other texts, from the Babylonian Talmud, the final redaction may be dated to 'between the fifth and the seventh centuries'.41 One of them is paralleled in the Palestinian Talmud, the final redaction of which is dated by most scholars to the first half of the fifth century.42 Hence, Burke provides only one text that can be dated toward the end of the Tannaitic period - still about two centuries after the Gospels were written. If Burke wants to claim that the traditions within these rabbinic texts go back much earlier than the date of redaction, he will have to support this with historical-critical analysis, which he has not done. Neusner's famous dictum, 'What we cannot show, we do not know' is relevant at this point.43

Nevertheless, let us proceed with caution to consider the significance of the parallels. My overall assessment is that they are helpful in illustrating the contrast between 'a highly anthropomorphized yetzer ha ra' and the tempter in the Gospel TS. The key distinction is expressed by Burke himself: 'in these texts the yetzer is 'personified to the point that it is depicted as an independent being, even while being identified as an internal impulse to sin'. In both texts cited by Burke, the yetzer hara is explicitly identified as suchIndeed, while Burke states that Rosen-Zvi notes 'that this temptation is not depicted as a mere impulse, but as an independent person arguing cogently with Boaz', the sentences immediately prior to his supporting quotation show that for Rosen-Zvi, the identification of the yetzer hara signals the internal nature of the temptation:
The appearance of the yetzer moves the venue from the interpersonal sphere to the inner arena of the protagonist's desires and proclivities: the sexual drama here is one of thoughts and reflections no less than of actions. The dangers lurking for man are internal, not external.44
By contrast, in the TS the tempter is designated only with personal nouns and is not identified as the yetzer hara. We do not have 'the appearance of the yetzer' to move 'the venue from the interpersonal sphere to the inner arena of the protagonist's desires and proclivities'; the TS remain in the interpersonal sphere.

In the second text, the internal nature of the temptation receives further explicit emphasis: 'my evil impulse grew proud within me'. By contrast, in the TS the tempter is never described using internalizing language. Finally, nothing in these rabbinic 'parallels' approaches the self-awareness of the tempter in the TS. In the Boaz midrash, the yetzer only speaks to Boaz about Boaz and not about itself. In the Nazirite tale, the yetzer's words are not recorded but it merely beseeches the Nazirite. By contrast, in the Lucan TS the tempter makes elaborate claims about his prerogatives using a divine passive: 'it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will' (Luke 4:6). In both Matthew and Luke the tempter demands a physical act of worship from Jesus, which is simply impossible if the tempter is internal to him. This would make the very temptation itself - which is no incidental detail but a key part of the story - nonsensical. Burke has never yet offered a satisfactory explanation for these features of the TS.

The other two rabbinic texts cited by Burke are cases where he says the Rabbis 'identified the yetzer in Old Testament passages which were speaking plainly of human beings', showing that they 'had anthropomorphized the yetzer to the extent that it was now natural to depict it as an individual separate from humans'. Again, these rabbinic texts involve explicit assertions made about the yetzer, whereas the Gospel TS do not mention the yetzer. Moreover, in the case of Micah 7:5, Rosen-Zvi notes a specific feature of the Hebrew text that made the yetzer interpretation possible: 'The homilist (in a typically midrashic move) reads רֵע (friend) as רַע (evil)'.45 Without the vowel points (which were added to the text by the Masoretes, probably after this midrash was developed),46 the words 'friend' and 'evil' are identical in Hebrew. The second text into which the rabbis read the yetzer is 2 Sam. 12:4 (incorrectly cited by Rosen-Zvi and Burke as 2 Sam. 2:12). Here, the yetzer is identified with the traveler who came to the rich man in an allegorical parable told by Nathan to David. It is surely the allegorical nature of the passage which prompted this identification. Nathan tells David that he is the rich man in the story. The poor man is obviously Uriah the Hittite and the ewe lamb Bathsheba, but what is the referent of the traveler? One can hardly imagine the rabbinic imagination concluding that it lacks an allegorical referent. Thus, as in Micah 7:5, the biblical text itself supplies the basis for the midrashic elaboration. That the rabbis chose to interpret this human character as the yetzer remains impressive, but as Rosen-Zvi states concerning the whole passage:
Taken together, these three homilies present a yetzer more developed than anything we find in the earlier Tannaitic literature: a sophisticated, dynamic, and demonic enemy.47
Thus, in Rosen-Zvi's judgment, far from demonstrating that such a highly anthropomorphized yetzer 'was well established...at least as early as the Tannaitic period', this text represents a development beyond anything found in the earlier Tannaitic literature. Thus, any attempt to use this text as contextual data for interpreting the Gospel TS is historically suspect.

6. Conclusion

I will conclude by listing features within the TS that support a literal interpretation of ὁ διάβολος / ὁ σατανᾶς as a supernatural personal being.
  • Only personal nouns are used for the tempter, and there is no explicit identification as yetzer or explicit internalization of the tempter (as seen in the alleged rabbinic parallels)
  • The tempter 'comes' at the beginning of the story, and 'leaves' at the end, just as angels 'come' at the end (in Matthew)
  • The tempter demands a physical act of worship from Jesus: 'fall down and worship me' (Matt. 4:9); 'worship before me' (Luke 4:7), which makes sense only if the tempter is an external person
  • The tempter demonstrates strong self-awareness independent of Jesus (in Luke): 'To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.' (Luke 4:6)
  • The statement, 'I give it to whom I will' simply does not make sense if it is Jesus' yetzer speaking. To whom, other than Jesus, might Jesus' yetzer possibly envision giving the kingdoms of the world?
  • Understood in the context of Roman law, showing Jesus the kingdoms of the world represents a proposed property transaction, which implies the presence of a distinct seller and buyer. This feature of the narrative is inexplicable if the seller and buyer are the same person, since then no transaction would be necessary
  • Whatever the tradition-history of the Q TS, both Matthew and Luke weave it seamlessly into their narrative, offering no indication that it should be read less literally than other events in the life of Jesus
  • As narrative critics argue, Satan/the devil features as a distinct character in the plot of each of the Synoptic Gospels
  • The identification of the tempter as Satan/the devil is common to both independently transmitted versions of the TS, those of Mark and Q. Consequently, the externality of the tempter cannot be attributed to a progressive theological dramatization of the Q TS known from Matthew and Luke
  • If the Q TS is identified as haggadic midrash, we should make recourse to the closest religion-historical parallels from this genre, which all feature the testing of a righteous man by a supernatural being (in fact, the contours of this motif are visible already in Job). The testing of a righteous man by his yetzer, depicted as an external person capable of speech, is first attested in the mid to late third century C.E. (according to evidence presented by Burke)
  • There are plausible explanations of Matthew's 'very high mountain' within a broadly literal reading of his TS, so this detail is no justification for proposing a figurative reading of the entire pericope. Moreover, the 'mountain' detail is found only in Matthew and so is irrelevant to the interpretation of the Marcan TS. It affects interpretation of the Lucan TS only in terms of the need to explain Luke's omission of the mountain (if it was present in the Q TS).
  • New research concerning the devil's use of Psalm 91 (an apotropaic48 psalm) in the TS has helped to 'situate Satan's invocation of the psalm within the larger context of early Jewish demonological tradition'.49
For these reasons, I believe the scholarly and traditional consensus that ὁ διάβολος / ὁ σατανᾶς in the Gospel TS refers to a supernatural being remains well-founded and secure despite the arguments raised in Burke's online writings. And I reiterate my observation that Burke has yet to offer a blow-by-blow commentary on the TS.


  • 1 I already addressed it briefly in some comments at the bottom of my last blog post; this is a more detailed response.
  • 2 Farrar, Thomas J. & Williams, Guy J. (2016). Diabolical Data: A Critical Inventory of New Testament Satanology. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 39(1), 40-71; Farrar, Thomas J. & Williams, Guy J. (2016). Talk of the Devil: Unpacking the Language of New Testament Satanology. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 39(1), 72-96.
  • 3 Kesich, Veselin (2007). Formation and Struggles: The Church, AD 33-450 (Vol. 1). Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, p. 12.
  • 4 The comment that Burke cites specifically concerns the 'historicity of the temptations'. Kesich suggests that 'Jesus himself was most likely the source of his trials in the wilderness, translated into figurative language'. What Kesich means by Jesus being the source of his trials is not that they were strictly internal but that Jesus was the historical source for the TS - since he was the only human being present, only he could have transmitted the story to his disciples (if in fact it is rooted in historical events). Burke infers from 'translated into figurative language' that Kesich interprets ὁ διάβολος as referring to Jesus' own desires, but Kesich himself does not say so.
  • 5 When Lachs says that the yetzer hara 'is externalized in the literature by the figure of Satan', it is unclear whether he thinks that Satan is an external figure in the literature or is just an apparently external figure in the literature. In rabbinic literature, Satan is an external figure.
  • 6 'To sum up, Lachs's Rabbinic Commentary is marred by sloppy editing, errors of fact and interpretation, and outdated scholarship. It is fatally flawed, however, by its uncritical methodology coupled with a lack of serious reflection on the implications of such a commentary for understanding New Testament literary history.' (Visotzky, Burton L. (1988). Review: Lachs' "Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament". The Jewish Quarterly Review, 78(3/4), 340-343, here p. 343.)
  • 7 The third, as both Burke and I have noted previously, being Phipps, William E. (1993). The Wisdom and Wit of Rabbi Jesus. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 38.
  • 8 The verb in both the MT and LXX literally means 'bless', but this should be understood as a euphemism, similar to the famous tannaitic birkat ha-minim ('blessing on heretics'). See Mangan, Celine (2002). Blessing and Cursing in the Prologue of Targum Job. In Paul V.M. Flesher (Ed.), Targum and Scripture: Studies in Aramaic Translations and Interpretation in Memory of Ernest G. Clarke (pp. 225-230). Leiden: Brill, p. 226.
  • 9 Page, Sydney H.T. (2007). Satan: God's Servant. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 50(3), 449-465; here p. 465.
  • 10 'It is undisputed that the Latin of the Moses fragment was translated from Greek...as there is no strong evidence for the Moses fragment having existed in a Semitic language, there is no need to look beyond a Greek original for a Hebrew text' (Grierson, Fiona (2008). The Testament of Moses. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, 17(4), 265-280; here p. 275.)
  • 11 Collins, John J. (2016). The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 160.
  • 12 Grierson, op. cit., p. 276.
  • 13 Translation: Tromp, Johannes (1993). The Assumption of Moses: A Critical Edition with Commentary. Leiden: Brill, p. 19.
  • 14 Tromp, op. cit., p. 229. Tromp suggests the text refers to the devil being barred from the heavenly council or, more likely, is a less concrete reference to the demise of satanic forces similar to what we find in other apocalyptic literature of the period.
  • 15 Tromp, op. cit., p. 229, notes the similarity to Jesus' statement in Mark 3:26 that Satan 'has an end'.
  • 16 See discussion in my article on this subject; also Tromp, op. cit., pp. 271f. Grierson takes a more conservative approach. She thinks either the Assumption of Moses or the Testament of Moses was the source of Jude's allusion, and 'cautiously assert[s] that it was the ToM'. However, because she finds that 'there is not enough evidence in the text itself or in external sources to identify the Moses fragment with either ToM or AoM, she concludes 'that no direct connection can be made between the Moses fragment and Jude 9' (Grierson, op. cit., p. 279).
  • 17 Cf. 2 Cor. 4:4, where 'the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God' is contrasted with 'the god of this age' who 'has blinded the minds of the unbelievers'.
  • 18 Laato, Antti (2013). The Devil in the Old Testament. In I. Fröhlich & E. Koskenniemi (Eds.), Evil and the Devil (pp. 1-22). London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, pp. 4-5, 20-21.
  • 19 Stokes, Ryan E. (2016). What is a Demon, What is an Evil Spirit, and What is a Satan? In J. Dochhorn, S. Rudnig-Zelt & B. Wold (Eds.), Das Böse, der Teufel und Dämonen (pp. 259-272). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 268-69.
  • 20 Stokes, op. cit., p. 271.
  • 21 These are the two possibilities raised concerning ὁ σατανᾶς in the Pauline epistles by Williams, Guy (2009). The Spirit World in the Letters of Paul the Apostle: A Critical Examination of the Role of Spiritual Beings in the Authentic Pauline Epistles. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, p. 88.
  • 22 Black, Matthew (1990). The Doxology to the Pater Noster with a Note on Matthew 6.13b. In Davies, P.R. & White, R.T. (Eds.), A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History. (pp. 327-338). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, p. 336.
  • 23 Burke, Jonathan (2016). Satan and Demons in the Apostolic Fathers: A Minority Report. Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok, 81, 127-168. On p. 137, n. 56, Burke cites Black as support for his claim that the use of ὁ πονηρὸς for a supernatural being 'has no pre-Christian witness'.
  • 24 Matt. 4:1 says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, which implies divine complicity in allowing the devil to tempt Jesus.
  • 25 For Christian readers, it is the final, canonical form of the TS that is authoritative for constructing theology.
  • 26 In his latest article, Burke writes, 'Farrar wrongly claims I ignore narrative criticism'. However, not only does he then neglect to provide any evidence of his previous interaction with narrative criticism; he does not rectify the omission by interacting with any of the narrative critics I had cited.
  • 27 See Christadelphian writings cited in my The Devil in the Wilderness, p. 9.
  • 28 See the various opinions summarized in Carruth, Shawn & Robinson, James M. (1996). Q 4:1-13, 16: The Temptations of Jesus - Nazara. Reconstructions of Q Through Two Centuries of Gospel Research: Excerpted, Sorted and Evaluated. Leuven: Peeters, pp. 264-272. After surveying previous research, four evaluators (Carruth, Hartin, Chang and Robinson) pass judgment and all four agree that ὄρος was in the Q source. Similarly, 'Most scholars believe that Matthew took εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν from Q; only rarely does one encounter the opposite opinion. The fact that specific settings (desert, temple) are given for the other two temptations, points in the former direction, for it leads one to expect that a setting for the third temptation would be specified as well. Moreover, Luke's version of this temptation shows signs of extensive editorial revision. In particular, the verb ἀνάγω, which appears in Lk. 4.5 in place of the mountain reference, is a characteristically Lukan word, and the omission of a mountain setting along with the addition of ἐν στιγμῇ χρόνου can be seen as the result of Luke's desire to clarify the purely visionary nature of this temptation. Thus both the form of the narrative and certain features characteristic of Luke's redactional style favour the view that the mountain reference was originally part of the Q account.' (Donaldson, Terence (1987). Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthew. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 87-88).
  • 29 'The third temptation, according to the redaction of 4:8, occurs on "a very high mountain." Luke's version (4:5) simply reads, "And leading him up..."' (Waetjen, Herman C. (1976). The Origin and Destiny of Humanness: An Interpretation of the Gospel According to Matthew. San Rafel: Crystal Press, p. 76); 'This is probably redactional. There is no parallel in Luke. Matthew will add a mountain in 5.1; 8.1; 15.29; and 28.16; and he likes λίαν. For ὑψηλός (Mt: 2; Mk: 1; Lk: 1) with ὄρος (Mt 16; Mk: 11; Lk: 12) see 17.1 (from Mark; cf. Gen 7.19-20; Deut 12.2; Jth 7.4; Isa 2.14; 14.13; Jer 3.6; Ezek 40.2).' (Davies, W.D. & Allison, Dale C., Jr. (1988). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Gospel according to Saint Matthew (Vol. 1). London: T&T Clark, p. 369); 'To be the object of εἰς, the evangelist adds ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν, "an exceedingly high mountain," i.e., higher yet, since according to Matthew's version Jesus has already been led up (v 1). ὑψηλὸν anticipates the description of the Mount of Transfiguration (17:1), and ὄρος and λίαν belong to Matthew's favorite vocabulary (6,1; 3,1). Above all, the added phrase carries forward the parallel between Jesus and Moses: Jesus views all the kingdoms of the world from a mountain just as Moses viewed not only all the land of Canaan (Deut 34:1-4), but also "the west and north and south and east" (Deut 3:27), from Mount Pisgah, or Nebo.' (Gundry, Robert Horton. (1994). Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution (2nd edn). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 57.); 'Matthew may have added ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λιάν to his mountain motif. Though the absence in Luke of a location is irregular, perhaps "mountain" is to be understood, or perhaps the journey was not of an earthly, but rather cosmic, even apocalyptic sort. This is an attractive idea, since it would resolve the logistics problem of viewing all the kingdoms from a mountain in the first place. Wherever this "mountain" is, it too is a mythic reference, and woulud be a logical addition by Matthew. Vaage's retention of ὄρος is logical, still allowing ὑψηλὸν λίαν to be a Matthean embellishment. This would give Matthew some credit for mountain-top elaboration, and at the same time preserve (or add) some of the parallelism and balance to the scenes. It doesn't explain Luke's ommission however. I would retain ἀνάγειν and assume the most logical location for such a viewing: the sky, adding an element of an apocalyptic sort, but it seems inevitable. "In a moment of time" is the mythological duration of the panoramic viewing; appropriate if the location is the sky, inappropriate on a mountain.' (Robbins, C. Michael (2007). The Testing of Jesus in Q. New York: Peter  Lang, p. 149); At Matt 4:8 the expression "to a very high mountain" (ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν) may be redactional, since it is not in the corresponding passage at Luke 4:5; on the other hand, Luke may have chosen to omit it. In any case, it seems entirely likely that Matthew intends us to see the mountain at 4:8 as corresponding to the mountain at 28:16' (Bryan, Christopher. (2011). The Resurrection of the Messiah. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 297 n. 51.); 'Matthew has followed his source, which has Jerusalem (= Matthew's "holy city") and the temple in the source of this narrative, sandwiched by desert on the one side, and Matthew's redactional "an exceedingly high mountain," on the other side... Matthew has modified Q's third temptation - "Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world" - by situating it on a mountain.' (Cohen, Akiva. (2016). Matthew and the Mishnah. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 227).
  • 30 See discussion in Carruth & Robinson pp. 274-79.
  • 31 As noted by Edwards, Origen and Jerome quote from the Gospel of the Hebrews in a way that appears to indicate its identification of Mount Tabor as the mount of temptation (Edwards, James R. (2015). The Gospel According to Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 128 n. 101). For example, 'But if someone accepts the Gospel according to the Hebrews, where the Savior himself says, "My mother, the Holy Spirit, took me just now by one of my hairs and carried me off to the great mountain Thabor"...' (Origen, Commentary on John 2.12.87, in Heine, Ronald E., trans. (1989). Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Books 1-10. Washington: Catholic University of America Press, p. 116).
  • 32 '[Luke's] shift from a local to a temporal scene can account for his omission of the mountain in the source (Loisy, Vogels, Creed, Vosté, Morgenthaler, Dupont, Kruse, Fitzmyer, Sevenich-Bax).' (Carruth, in Carruth & Robinson, op. cit., p. 271).
  • 33 'That no such mountain exists from which one can view the whole earth provides the key to explaining Luke's omission of this phrase.' (Hartin, in Carruth & Robinson, op. cit., p. 271); 'It is unclear to what extent Luke would have been influenced by pragmatic considerations: Even with a flat earth limited to the Mediterranean world, no mountain is high enough. (The limitation is actually that of eyesight, not of altitude.)' (Robinson, in Carruth & Robinson, op. cit., pp. 271-72).
  • 34 'The omission of the setting on "a very high mountain" (see Matt 4:8), and especially the reference to "in an instant" (Gk. lit. "in a moment of time"), implies something visionary or imaginary. It is thus more spiritual than the physical version of the temptation in Matt 4:8-9.' (Edwards, op. cit., p. 128).
  • 35 See Robbins, op. cit., p. 149 (quoted above).
  • 36 'There may also be a heightened mythological component: "Leading him up" may imply an ascent through the air, e.g. somewhat like what may be meant in Acts 8:39: πνεῦμα κυρίου ἥρτασεν τὸν Φίλιππον. Luke also refers to visible descents from above: ἐθεώρουν τὸν σατανᾶν ὡς ἀστραπὴν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ πεσόντα (Luke 10:18, a saying only in Luke); καὶ καταβῆναι τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον σωματικῷ εἴδει ὡς περιστερὰν ἐπ’ αὐτόν (Luke 3:22-the bodiliness is only in Luke). Jesus' own final ascension would then be a kind of inclusio (note the recurring prefix ἀνα-): Acts 1:2: ἀνελήμφθη; Luke 24:51: διέσθη ἀπ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ἀναφέρετο εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν, anticipated already in Luke 9:51: ἀνάλημψις.' (Robinson, in Carruth & Robinson, op. cit., pp. 271-72).
  • 37 'The temptation story also gives a description of a soul flight, where Jesus is transported from one place to another, from the wilderness to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. Then, in another soul journey, the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain, where he is shown all the kingdoms of the earth.' (Gagné, André. (2016). Narrative Depictions of Altered States of Consciousness in 1 Enoch and the Synoptic Tradition. In Loren T. Stuckenbruck & Gabriele Boccaccini (Eds.), Enoch and the Synoptic Gospels: Reminiscences, Allusions, Intertextuality (pp. 19-30). Atlanta: SBL Press, p. 27).
  • 38 'As Fitzmyer says (1980, 507) Luke makes "minor modifications in the story (which) reveal a Lucan concern to present the temptations in a plausible form"' (Hartin, in Carruth & Robinson, op. cit., p. 271); 'How can we explain Luke's redaction?... Luke substitutes a temporal expression ἐν στιγμῇ χρόνου for Q's spatial expression εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν out of a concern for verisimilitude. He realizes that no mountain, however high it might reach, could furnish a vantage point from which to survey all the kingdoms of the world. A similar concern for verisimilitude surfaced in the first temptation where Luke switched to a single stone to avoid having the landscape strewn with loaves of bread. Instead of the spatial image, Luke substitutes a temporal expression which refers to the instantaneous vision that unfolds before Jesus. Luke thus frames the temptation as no ordinary occurrence but rather as a visionary experience.' (Fleddermann, H.T. (2005). Q: A Reconstruction and Commentary. Leuven: Peeters, p. 249.)
  • 39 (Robinson, in Carruth & Robinson, op. cit., p. 271).
  • 40 Gruschcow, Lisa (2006). Writing the Wayward Wife: Rabbinic Interpretations of Sotah. Leiden: Brill, p. 5.
  • 41 Zellentin, Holger M. (2011). Rabbinic Parodies of Jewish and Christian Literature. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 10 n. 33.
  • 42 Stemberger, Günter (1996). Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (2nd edn). Edinburgh: T&T Clark, p. 171: 'Most scholars...would accept a later date for the last named teachers in PT, thereby inferring a date of redaction in the first half of the fifth century.'
  • 43 Neusner argues at length that historical criticism must be used in the study of rabbinic literature, just as in the study of the Gospels. The burden of proof is on the one who claims a particular saying is early enough to be relevant to New Testament research. If this cannot be shown, it is not known. See Neusner, Jacob (1994). Rabbinic Literature and the New Testament: What We Cannot Show, We Do Not Know. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, esp. pp. 1-17.
  • 44 Rosen-Zvi, Ishay (2009). Refuting the Yetzer: The Evil Inclination and the Limits of Rabbinic Discourse. Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, 17(2), 117-141. Here p. 121.
  • 45 Rosen-Zvi, op. cit., p. 131 n. 39.
  • 46 'From about A.D. 500 to 800 the Masoretes added vowel points, accents and the Masorahs (to help safeguard the text from error) as well as many scribal corrections.' (Wegner, Paul D. (2006). A Student's Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods and Results. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 77.)
  • 47 Rosen-Zvi, Ishay (2009). Sexualising the Evil Inclination: Rabbinic 'Yetzer' and Modern Scholarship. Journal of Jewish Studies, 60(2), 264-281. Here p. 272; emphasis added.
  • 48 'Apotropaic' activity refers to 'preventative measures...taken, via petition or incantation, to ensure safety from future demonic harm', in contrast to exorcistic activity which cures people from current demonic affliction (Morris, Michael (2016). Apotropaic Inversion in the Temptation and at Qumran. In J. Dochhorn, S. Rudnig-Zelt & B. Wold (Eds.), Das Böse, der Teufel und Dämonen (pp. 93-100). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 93.
  • 49 Morris, op. cit., p. 93. Morris concludes that the TS portrays 'an aggressive manipulation in which the Devil mocks the apotropaic efficacy of Psalm 91 in order to intimidate Jesus' (p. 99). This, of course, makes little narrative sense if there is no demonic element to the temptation.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Form, Genre, and Historicity of the Wilderness Temptations of Jesus in the Gospels: A Response to Jonathan Burke (Part 4)

This concludes a series of posts which discuss the literary background to the TS in response to two online articles by Jonathan Burke.

7.       The TS as a Visionary Experience

Within the rubric of historicity, one must consider the question of what sort of experience is described here.[1] Does the TS describe visionary experiences or bodily experiences? The two are not mutually exclusive, of course. Paul, probably referring to his own visionary experience, admits in 2 Cor. 12:2-3 that he is ignorant as to whether the experience was “in the body or out of the body.”  Segal notes,
Paul’s confusion as to whether his ecstatic journey to heaven took place in the body is a rare insight into first-century thinking, since it demonstrates either a disagreement in the community or more likely a first-century mystic’s inability to distinguish between bodily and spiritual journeys to heaven.[2]
In summarizing the characteristics of ancient Jewish and Christian heavenly ascent texts, Gooder notes that some texts “describe a physical ascent in the body.”[3]

It is therefore possible that what is described here is a mystical experience which nonetheless entailed the transportation of Jesus’ body. For the second temptation (in Matthew’s order) requires Jesus’ bodily presence to be meaningful: how else could he be tempted to throw himself down?[4] Similarly, the third temptation seems to require corporeal presence inasmuch as Jesus is tempted to fall down and worship the devil.

In arguing that the TS are visionary in nature, some scholars have drawn a parallel between the TS and another visionary Jesus tradition involving Satan: that of Luke 10:18,[5] which “has usually been regarded as an authentic saying of the historical Jesus.”[6]

We have seen earlier that Schiavo noted parallels between the literary form of the ‘heavenly journey’ and the TS. For him, the characteristics of this form include
the holiness of the one who makes the journey, the ritual of preparation, being led by the spirit or in the spirit, disappearance, the ascent to the highest place, or to the highest heaven, being accompanied by an angel, the vision of angels, of the throne, of what is about to take place… fear, trembling and adoration, the return to earth[7]
He concludes that “There is no doubt that the account of the temptation can be read in the wider context of the heavenly journey,” although there are important differences in content, since Jesus is accompanied by the Devil rather than an angel, and “seems to remain on earth.”[8]

Orlov takes this point further:
Jewish apocalyptic accounts often depict the transportation of human visionaries into the upper realms with the help of angelic guides. In view of these apocalyptic currents, it is striking that in the temptation narrative Satan serves as a psychopomp of Jesus and transports him to high, possibly even the highest, places… In the temptation narrative, Satan seems to be fulfilling similar functions of a transporting angel… It is also important that in both Matthew and Luke, Satan serves not merely as a psychopomp but also as an angelus interpres who literally ‘leads up’ (ἀναγαγὼν αὐτὸν) the visionary and ‘shows him’ (δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ/ἔδεξεν αὐτῷ) the visionary reality, thus fulfilling the traditional functions of interpreting angels in Jewish apocalyptic and mystical accounts.[9]
What is evident from recent scholarly readings of the TS as visionary experiences do not portend well for Burke’s efforts to demythologize the tempter into a psychological impulse or deny that the TS have a narrative function.[10] Burke claims that because I allow the possibility that the temptations are based on a visionary experience of the historical Jesus, I am being inconsistent, having “completely abandoned” my “literalistic hermeneutic.” Specifically, Burke states:
What would Farrar say if confronted with the fact that the Greek word used here for ‘mountain’ means a literal physical mountain, that the verb used for ‘see’ means literally viewing with one’s own physical eyes, that the Greek translated ”all the kingdoms of the world” literally means ”all the kingdoms of the world”, and that to read these terms non-literally in order to justify a specific interpretation of the temptation accounts is therefore invalid?
On the “mountain” issue, one can refer Burke to Donaldson’s study referred to previously (Part 2), which concludes that the Matthean temptation is to be read within the setting of the cosmic mountain motif known from Jewish apocalyptic. Orlov sees the same idea here.[11] As to “all the kingdoms of the world,” one need not insist that this means literally every location on planet earth. This would be equivalent to arguing that, because Gen. 13:14-15 is part of a historical narrative, a consistently literal hermeneutic requires us to limit the scope of the promise exactly to Abram’s field of vision! As Burke should be aware if he has read my previous comments on this text, the land which Yahweh showed Moses according to Deut. 34:1-4 is not visible from Mount Nebo, so that it would require “an airborne experience for Moses to actually see all that the biblical text says he saw in his vision from the summit of Mount Nebo.”[12]

Finally, the “fact” “that the verb used for ‘see’ means literally viewing with one’s own physical eyes” is simply a figment of Burke’s imagination, since no verb meaning ‘see’ occurs in the Gospel TS! The verb that does occur is δείκνυμι, to show, which is used frequently of apocalyptic visions (Zech. 3:1 LXX; Rev. 1:1; 4:1; 17:1; 21:9f; 22:1, 6, 8).[13]

Burke fails to demonstrate why the presence of visionary experiences would be inconsistent with a narrative reading of the TS. In reporting about women who “had seen a vision of angels” (Luke 24:23), did Luke mean to convey that they had not actually seen angels? When we are told in Acts 7:55 that Stephen “saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” does the fact that this was a subjective, visionary experience (apparently no one else present could see Jesus) imply that Jesus did not literally appear to Stephen within the narrative? And, returning to the other ‘mythical’ narratives in the Gospels, if the heavenly voice which declared Jesus to be God’s beloved Son (Mark 1:11; 9:7) is understood as Jesus’ religious experience, does this mean God didn’t actually speak within the narrative? The clear answer in every case is “No,” and the same applies to the TS. Even if the temptations were visionary experiences, this would in no way negate their narrative function, or provide a license for explaining away the devil.

8. Conclusions

Similarities between the TS and haggadic midrash, particularly accounts of righteous biblical figures being tested by supernatural beings, assist us in situating the TS from a history-of-religions perspective. Nevertheless, this is only one component of the literary background. The Gospel TS are widely recognized as mythological narrative, owing in part to the presence of Satan as an active character. Narrative criticism has drawn out the role that Satan plays in the plot of each of the Synoptic Gospels, with the TS functioning as the opening salvo of a cosmic conflict that continues throughout the story. There are different views on the historicity of the TS, with most contemporary scholars regarding the account as rooted in experiences of the historical Jesus but embellished by later Christian tradition. Nevertheless, the Gospels clearly represent the TS as events in the life of Jesus, and for those whose worldview is shaped by Scripture, there is no compelling reason not to take their testimony at face value. The extent to which the TS describe apocalyptic visionary experiences is debatable, but either view on this issue is perfectly consistent with the dominant view that the devil described here is a supernatural personal being.

The consensus of modern scholarship is that Jesus and the early church believed in a supernatural being called Satan and interpreted his experience in the wilderness in terms of conflict with this cosmic enemy. Burke has failed to recognize this only by focusing all of his attention on form criticism and historical criticism of the TS while neglecting narrative criticism as well as scholarship which ascribes a mythological worldview to the historical Jesus. In the end, it is Burke’s exegesis of the TS that is idiosyncratic, as well as vague. Nevertheless, I do want to acknowledge Burke’s work as it has provided me with an impetus to deepen my understanding of the literary background of the TS.

[1] “To affirm the historicity of the temptations does not, however, settle the question of how they were experienced. At least two features suggest that the temptations were some kind of visionary or inward, spiritual experience” (Blomberg, C.L. (1995). Temptation of Jesus. In G.W. Bromiley (Ed.), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Vol. 4) (pp. 784-786). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 785). In contrast to this, Burke appears to regard the idea that the temptation was “visionary” as antithetical to the idea that it is a “historical narrative.”
[2] Segal, A.F. (2008). The Afterlife as Mirror of the Self. In F. Flannery, C. Shantz, & R.A. Werline (Eds.), Experientia: Inquiry into Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Christianity (pp. 19-40). Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, p. 23.
[3] Gooder, P. (2006). Only the Third Heaven? 2 Corinthians 12.1-10 and Heavenly Ascent. London: Bloomsbury, p. 154.
[4] Stein, noting the debate over whether or not the experiences were visionary in some way, states, “Whereas the second [Lukan] temptation does seem to be visionary in some sense (Jesus was shown all the world’s kingdoms in an instant), the natural reading of the other two temptations appears to portray a real experience, and most probably Luke understood them this way” (1993: 144n41). Elsewhere, he states, "the general impression from reading the accounts is that they were objective and involved external events: a real place (the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem) and real, if symbolic, time (forty days and forty nights)...This argues against seeing the temptations as entirely subjective visions or experiences" (Stein, R.H. (1996). Jesus the Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 104).
[5] Bird states concerning the TS “the tradition probably relates to the enigmatic saying in Luke 10:18… which comprises a visionary account from Jesus where he intimates Satan’s downfall” (2014: 639). So also Noll, “when he said he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Lk 10:18), he most likely was referring to his own visionary experience. If such a vision came prior to or as part of his baptism, it would explain both the readiness of Satan to appear to him and his recognition of the tempter” (Noll, S. (2003). Angels of Light, Powers of Darkness: Thinking Biblically About Angels, Satan, and Principalities. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, p. 103.) Puig asserts, “Jesus only had two visions during the whole of his ministry – the first of the opening of the heavens (Mk 1.10) and the second of Satan falling from the heavens (Lk. 10.18)” (Puig I Tàrrech, A. (2010). Jesus: An Uncommon Journey. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 270).
[6] Gathercole, S.J. (2003). Jesus’ Eschatological Vision of the Fall of Satan: Luke 10,18 Reconsidered. Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 94, 143-163.
[7] Schiavo 2002: 146.
[8] Schiavo 2002: 147.
[9] Orlov, A. (2013). Veneration Motif in the Temptation Narrative of the Gospel of Matthew:
Lessons from the Enochic Tradition. Paper presented at Seventh Enoch Seminar: Enochic Influences on the Synoptic Gospels. Camaldoli, 21-26 July 2013. Accessed at https://www.academia.edu/3626511/Veneration_Motif_in_the_Temptation_Narrative_of_the_Gospel_of_Matthew_Lessons_from_the_Enochic_Tradition
[10] As Blomberg, one of the sources quoted by Burke in support of a visionary interpretation, states, “Christ’s temptations may well have been to a certain degree subjective or visionary, though no less real or diabolical.” (Blomberg, C.L. (2009). Jesus and the Gospels. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, p. 261.
[11] “Several scholars have previously remarked that the mountain here might allude to the place of divine presence and dominion” (Orlov 2013: 16).
[12] Christensen, D.L. (2002). Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12. Mexico City: Thomas Nelson, p. 871.
[13] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 214.