Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Prophetic Ride (Zechariah 9:9)

Which prophet predicted that the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey? Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9)

The Book of Zechariah is one of twelve Minor Prophets canonized in the Bible and is positioned as the penultimate book in the Christian Old Testament. The book is commonly divided into two units, often referred to as First Zechariah (Zechariah 1:1-8:23) and Second Zechariah (Zechariah 9:1-14:21). Second Zechariah is comprised of two poetic oracles (Zechariah 9:1-11:17, 12:1-14:21).

Second Zechariah begins by predicting doom for Israel’s enemies (Zechariah 9:1-8). The prophecy then transitions to describing the coming of a triumphant king who ushers in the dawning of a new age (Zechariah 9:9-17).

Marvin A. Sweeney (b. 1953) discusses:

Although the material in Zechariah 9-14 is generally considered to be much later additions to Zechariah 1-8...they appear to outline the fulfillment of the promises articulated in the present oracles concerning Zerubbabel. Throughout Zechariah 9-14, reference is made to the future Davidic monarchy. Zechariah 9:9-10 calls for the people to rejoice because the king will come to them riding upon a donkey and establishing his dominion from sea to sea. (Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets, Volume 2 (Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry), 611)
The Messianic king arrives riding a donkey amid a liturgical procession (Zechariah 9:9).
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 NASB)
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (b. 1933) situates:
At the heart of Zechariah 9 stands one of the most famous predictions about the coming messianic king. Whether it should be treated separately...or linked with Zechariah 9:1-8 or with Zechariah 9:11-17...is a difficult question. On the one hand, it does continue in the poetic form of Zechariah 9:1-8, and it does describe both the Messiah and the way He will govern the kingdom of God announced in both Zechariah 9:1-8 and Zechariah 9:11-17. On the other hand, it is distinctive in nature and functions as a pivotal point for both Zechariah 9:1-8 and Zechariah 9:11-17, and these factors persuade us that it is best to treat Zechariah 9:9-10 as a distinctive oracle that enlarges on the messianic teaching of Zechariah 3:8 and Zechariah 6:9-15. (Kaiser, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Mastering the Old Testament), 370)
The figure mounted on the donkey is the Messiah. Barry G. Webb (b. 1945) identifies:
Zechariah 9:9 is undoubtedly the best-known verse in Zechariah, and one of the better-known verses in the entire Old Testament. The key issue for the interpretation of the passage is the identity of the king who is seen here riding into Jerusalem on a donkey amid shouts of rejoicing...It is God who has been on the move in Zechariah 9:1-8, and his progress has been towards Jerusalem. So it is God himself whom we are expecting to arrive there at this point. But the picture of God himself riding on a donkey is incongruous, to say the least. Furthermore, God is clearly distinguished from the king. God is the speaker (the ‘I’ of Zechariah 9:10) who announces the arrival of the king and speaks of him in the third person...So the king is a man, a human being–but a man who is closely associated with God...The book of Zechariah has already given us the key to the identity of this king. In its context in Zechariah, this king can be none other than the one whose coming was promised in chapter 3 [Zechariah 3:1-10], and symbolized in the crowing of Joshua the high priest in chapter 6 [Zechariah 6:1-15]...The king is God’s Messiah. (Webb, The Message of Zechariah: Your Kingdom Come (Bible Speaks Today), 131)
The picture Zechariah paints is a unique and consequently redefines the notion of king. David L. Petersen (b. 1943) deliberates:
The author of Zechariah 9:9 is presenting a highly nuanced form of political expectation. This is no standard royal or messianic expectation, namely, the return of a real or ideal Davidide. This expectation has little in common with the hope for a prince (Ezekiel 40:1-48:35), a crowned Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:23); a Davidide à la the oracles of Zechariah (Zechariah 4:6-10). Instead, the poet focuses on collectivities, addressed through the technique of personification. (Petersen, Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 59)
George L. Klein (b. 1955) concurs:
In Zechariah 9...the royal role of the Messiah appears in unique form. In Zechariah 9:9 the Messiah enters the scene riding a beast of burden, not a steed associated with military might. Riding on a lowly donkey, the Messiah will reign over a kingdom that he will administer peacefully through the strength of compelling righteousness, not brute force as other kings must exert. In addition to the peaceful connotation of the beast on which the coming King will ride, this Monarch will arrive “righteous and having salvation, gentle” (Zechariah 9:9). (Klein, Zechariah (New American Commentary), 71)
The king that the prophet presents is an idealized version. David L. Petersen (b. 1943) characterizes:
Zechariah 9:9 depict[s], in surprising order, the manner in which the king will arrive, as well as his attributes. We might expect the poet to write “Humble, riding upon a donkey” immediately after the report that the king is coming. Instead, the poet offers two adjectives to define the salient features of the king. He, like other idealized earthly kings, will be righteous (so II Samuel 23:3) and victorious. The king shares these attributes with the deity. The imagery of just ruler and military savior are pivotal to the author’s understanding of the king. (Petersen, Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 58)
One of the striking features of the king is that he enters upon a “donkey” (CEV, ESV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV) or “ass” (ASV, KJV, RSV) (Zechariah 9:9).

Carol L. Meyers (b. 1942) and Eric M. Meyers (b. 1940) define:

The word hămôr, “ass,” indicating the king’s mount, is the first of three animal terms used in this passage. Its commonplace usage in the Bible signifies a beast of burden (e.g., Genesis 42:26, 44:13, 45:23; I Samuel 16:20; II Samuel 16:1; etc.). However, cognate terms in Ugarit and Mari were used for animals that a deity rides or that draw a chariot in a ritual festival. In contrast to the horse, the mule was evidently a symbol of peace (Wilhelm Theodor In der Smitten 1980:466, 469). Although a lowly beast (Genesis 49:14ff.), it could signify royalty. The story of Saul retrieving asses may be an allusion to his future office [I Samuel 9:3-10], and the succession story of Solomon has him on a mule rather than a horse (although the word there is pered rather than hămôr [I Kings 1:33, 38]). The range of images attached to hămôr is striking, and they may all contribute to the message of this passage—that the king represents peace, that his humble beast is suitable for his role in submitting to divine power while exerting his own royal dominion, and that he is a legitimate monarch. The use of a lowly animal is one of the ways in which a royal figure partakes of the life-style of the people he dominates. In this way he bridges the structural gap between those in power and those subjugated and thereby helps to win the cooperation of people dominated by the royal elite. (Meyers and Meyers, Zechariah 9-14 (Anchor Bible), 130)
Mark Allen Hahlen (b. 1959) and Clay Alan Ham (b. 1962) add:
The extended description of the donkey (חמור, hămôr) as a colt, the foal of a donkey [Zechariah 9:10] more narrowly describes the king’s mount in both the premonarchical periods (Judges 5:10, 10:4, 12:14; II Samuel 16:1-2; I Kings 1:33). Evidence from Ur and Mari indicates the donkey is the royal mount par excellence in ancient Near East from the second millennium B.C. The association of the donkey with the promised ruler from Judah (Genesis 49:11) and with David (II Samuel 16:1-2) suggests it as an appropriate image for the legitimate Davidic heir. The choice of a donkey rather than a horse to portray the coming of the king also subverts militaristic notions. The horses and chariots that belong to Israel, Persia, or any other nation cannot secure for them the kingdom of Yahweh. This truth resonates with the earlier affirmation that the success of Joshua and Zerubbabel comes not from human power or might (Zechariah 4:6). (Hahlen and Ham, Minor Prophets, Volune 2: Nahum–Malachi (College Press NIV Commentary), 431)
As noted, there is precedence for ancient monarchs enlisting similar transportation. David L. Petersen (b. 1943) informs:
Just as the...previous poem used surprisingly vivid imagery to describe Yahweh’s presence in Jerusalem, namely, camping at his house [Zechariah 9:8], so too...this second poem uses vivid language to depict the king’s arrival in Jerusalem. To think of a king riding on a donkey may strike one as farfetched. However, we know that human kings in the Ancient Near East, particularly as attested in second millennium B.C.E. texts, rode donkeys. Genesis 49:10-11 also clearly demonstrates that these animals are mentioned in references to royalty (cf. II Samuel 16:2). The sole exception to this pervasive royal imagery is the term “humble,” which is used here to redefine the character of the divine king. (Petersen, Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 58)
Carol L. Meyers (b. 1942) and Eric M. Meyers (b. 1940) discuss:
The image of a royal figure mounted on an ass rather than a horse derives from a rather well-established Near Eastern practice of royalty in procession on a mule (Samuel Feigin [1893-1950] 1944; Jack M. Sasson [b. 1941] 1976:72-73). The description here is perhaps a reapplication of the text of Genesis 49:10ff., where in Jacob’s blessing of Judah and the dynastic promise is related to an action involving donkeys (Michael A. Fishbane [b. 1943 1980:355 and 1985:501-02). Fishbane suggests that the postexilic setting of Zechariah 9 is propitious for reworking an older text that forces a future that has not been realized since the Exile. An ancient blessing is reworked into a striking oracle, giving authority to what it envisions. (Meyers and Meyers, Zechariah 9-14 (Anchor Bible), 129)
Jewish texts especially emphasize the image of a king riding a donkey. George L. Klein (b. 1955) chronicles:
The biblical story of the coming messianic King likely begins with Genesis 49:10-11: “The scepter will not depart from Judah...He will tether his donkey to a vine.” The Judaic commentary, Genesis Rabbah, also connects the donkey tied to the vine in Genesis 49 to messianic interpretation. Zechariah’s Messiah represents the culmination of the Lord’s promise to David of a Davidic King who would reign perpetually: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (II Samuel 7:16). (Klein, Zechariah (New American Commentary), 271)
Pamela J. Scalise (b. 1950) supplements:
The king’s procession to Zion, riding on a donkey, follows an indigenous monarchic tradition found in Judges 5:10, 10:4, 12:14 and II Samuel 16:2. David’s return to Jerusalem after putting down Absalom’s revolt provides the background for this picture. He had left the city almost as a fugitive, reviled by his enemies and humbled by the treachery of his favorite son. He returned, having been saved in battle. The picture of the donkey-mounted monarch also interprets this promised king as ruler in Genesis 49:8-12, who tethers “his donkey to a vine,/his colt to the choicest branch.” Here in Zechariah 9:9, as in Genesis 49:11, the colt in the second line specifies the kind of “donkey,” purebred and not previously ridden. It does not name a second animal. The ruler from the tribe of Judah will hold “the obedience of the nations” (Genesis 49:10). A blessing once fulfilled in the Davidic monarchy is here renewed as an eschatological promise. (John Goldingay [b. 1942] and Scalise, Minor Prophets II (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series), 274)
While the motif of the king atop a donkey is present, the parallels between Genesis 49:10-11 and Zechariah 9:9-10 are imprecise. Mark J. Boda (b. 1962) observes:
This verse [Zechariah 9:9] appears to assume the royal tradition of Genesis 49:10-11, in which Judah will produce a king for Israel who will ride on a “donkey...colt.”...One should not, however, miss elements of contrast between Genesis 49 and Zechariah 9:9, as Iain M. Duguid [b. 1960] has pointed out. Rather than a figure hailing from the warlike tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8), whose garments drip with blood from battle (Genesis 49:11), Zechariah 9 presents a humble king. “The warlike language is still present in Zechariah 9 but it has been transferred from the royal figure to the Lord himself.” (Boda, Haggai, Zechariah (NIV Application Commentary))
David L. Petersen (b. 1943) theorizes:
Though there seems to be a tradition of the king—in Israel, David—riding on a donkey, I do not think the poet is quoting another biblical text, contra Klaus Seybold [1936-2011], “Späetprophetische Hoffnungen auf die Wiederkunft des Davidischen Zeitalters in Sach 9-14,” Judaica 29 (1973): 104-5. Though there is clear allusion to royal traditions, I do not think that Zechariah 9:9-10 presents a specific allusion to a Vorbild in the Davidic period. (Petersen, Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 58)
Given this connection between animal and monarch, it is not surprising that many have taken the donkey as indicative of its rider’s royalty. Katrina J.A. Larkin classifies:
חמוד — another tone-setting word, this time kingly (George M.A. Hanfmann [1911-1986] (1985) traces the tradition of the ‘donkey’ as royal mount back to eighteenth century Mari); and possibly David (Klaus Seybold [1936-2011] 1973;103). (Larkin, The Eschatology of Second Zechariah: A Study of the Formation of a Mantological Wisdom Anthology, 63)
Kenneth G. Hoglund (b. 1954) counters:
Though the literature does not always do so, we must distinguish between a donkey (referred to in this passage), and a mule (hybrid between horse and donkey). The mule (Hebrew pered) is preferred over the donkey as an official royal mount. The evidence for a donkey as a royal mount in antiquity is meager. In Akkadian there is an occasional passing reference to a donkey for the king to ride. A Hittite narrative, The Queen of Qanesh and the Tale of Zalpa, has the thirty royal sons driving a donkey, but does not specify that they ride them. In Ugaritical literature, the goddess Athiratu rides on a donkey in one text, thus indicating it a regal mount if not royal...In biblical texts elites occasionally ride on an ‘ayir (the second word used in this text...see Judges 10:4, 12:13) or on an ’ātōn (the third term, foal of a “donkey,” and Balaam’s mount in Numbers 22:21-33). Consequently, evidence is lacking to suggest that the king in this verse is being provided with royal trappings. (John H. Walton [b. 1952], The Minor Prophets, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 220-21)
Others have seen the donkey as evidence of the monarch’s inherent humility. Thomas Edward McComiskey (1928-1996) construes:
The donkey appears to express humility in this context, because Zechariah 9:10 states that the Lord will cut off the horse from his people, ending their misplaced trust in implements of war. Since Zion’s king establishes peace among the nations (Zechariah 9:10), it would be anomalous for him to ride an animal that symbolizes war. The donkey, on the other hand, stands out in this text as a deliberate rejection of this symbol of arrogant trust in human might, expressing subservience to the sovereignty of God. We must view Israel’s king in contrast to Alexander the Great [356-323 BCE] and the other proud conquerors of history. The reference to his riding a beast of burden, not a white charger, underscores this sense of the word ‘āni. Jerusalem’s king is of humble mien, yet victorious, and so it has always been that the church does not effectively spread the gospel by sword or by arrogance, but by mirroring the humble spirit of its king and savior. (McComiskey, The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary, 1166)
Carol L. Meyers (b. 1942) and Eric M. Meyers (b. 1940) concur:
What does the “ass” imagery represent, in light of the frequent emphasis on kings in relation to horses and chariots in the Bible, especially in First Zechariah (Zechariah 1:8, 6:2, 3, 6, cf. Haggai 2:22)? Horses and chariots represent the military, or power aspects of political domination. “Riding on an ass” is a royal image that does not partake of that dimension in dynastic authority. Karl Elliger [1901-1977] (1975:149), in pointing to numerous ancient rituals for kings on mules, may be correct in emphasizing the present setting, by signaling a postvictory scene, is intended to repudiate warfare of any kind. By substituting nonmilitary animals for horses, the prophet is reversing the power imagery associated with a king’s rule. In the eschatological future, the restoration of the Davidic monarchy will radically alter the notion of kingship—the future will not exert exploitative domination or foster socioeconomic elitism...Indeed the beginning of Zechariah 9:10 (wěhikratti), “I will cut off,” makes it clear that the future king will not need to depend on force in the eschatological future...It is difficult to determine whether this altered perspective of the royal figure can be related to the political realities in Yehud in the time of Second Zechariah, by which time any realistic expectation of full political power being restored to Yehud would have dissipated. The presence of First Zechariah of God’s spirit, rather than political force, as the theme for the future may have been based on political pragmatism. Such may also be the case here, with the Near Eastern ideology of stability and world order accompanying a new ruler involved to further strengthen the eschatological imagery of a restored Davidide...In any case it would be overburdening the text to see it as a reflection of conflicting royal ideologies (as Paul D. Hanson [b. 1939] 1973:43-44 and Rex A. Mason [b. 1926] 1976: 237). (Meyers and Meyers, Zechariah 9-14 (Anchor Bible), 129-30)
A people who do not have a king are told by the prophet that they can expect one (Zechariah 9:9-17). He will be unique. As is indicated by his mount, he will be both royal and humble. He will be as no king has been before. And this is cause for hope.

What words would you use to describe the ideal monarch? What means of transportation would you expect a ruler to use? Why does Israel’s Messiah sit atop a lowly donkey? Is it a sign of humility, royalty, or both? How improbable is this prophecy? Has the prophecy been fulfilled?

The passage is perhaps the most famous in the book of Zechariah due to its association with Jesus (Matthew 21:5; John 12:15). James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) commends:

Few Messianic prophecies are better known than this, chiefly because of its quotation in Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15 as being fulfilled by the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on what we traditionally call Palm Sunday. (Boice, The Minor Prophets, Volume 2: Micah – Malachi, 194)
The donkey is a staple in the gospel stories of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. Mike Butterworth (b. 1941) documents:
It is...recorded in all four gospels that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-18. Matthew and John have an explicit quotation of Zechariah 9:9. (Butterworth, Structure and the Book of Zechariah (Library Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies), 180)

Zechariah’s prophecies impacted the New Testament. George L. Klein (b. 1955) explains:

The book of Zechariah exerted a profound influence over the New Testament, particularly in the realm of Messianic passages—a point long noted by New Testament scholars. Several important themes from the book figure prominently in the New Testament. One of the most important of these is the shepherd-king. From Zechariah 9:9 the King who rode into Jerusalem on a “donkey” reemerges in Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15). C.H. Dodd [1884-1973] even suggests that Zechariah provided the Gospel writers with material of equal importance to the very testimonia of Christ’s ministry. (Klein, Zechariah (New American Commentary), 61-62)
Zechariah 9:9-10 is of particular interest to New Testament scholars. Mike Butterworth (b. 1941) comments:
Zechariah 9:9-10 is probably the best known and most discussed passage in Zechariah 9-14. Christian tradition has affirmed that Christ fulfilled this prophecy when he rode into Jerusalem jut before his arrest and death. Jesus himself seems deliberately to have acted out this prophecy. Since he also referred other passages from Deutero-Zechariah to himself there is considerable interest in the relation that these have each other. Paul Lamarche [1923-2004] connected them by means of his elaborate chiastic structure and argued that together they make up a coherent picture of a shepherd-king messiah. (Butterworth, Structure and the Book of Zechariah (Library Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies), 180)
The passage’s pervasive influence is somewhat perplexing. Richard Coggins (b. 1929) and Jin H. Han deliberate:
This is the first of the passages in Zechariah 9-14 which are taken up in the Gospels as prefiguring the ministry, and particularly the passion, of Jesus (F.F. Bruce [1910-1991]1961 remains the clearest discussion of the material as a whole.) There is still no agreement as to why this section should have been so influential. The passages might all have been incorporated into a collection of Testimonia, but that only raises the difficulty again at one remove: why should this apparently very obscure collection of material have been so widely used? Clearly the New Testament writers regarded it as in some sense “messianic,” but there are no obvious internal grounds for seeing that characteristic as more obvious here than in many other prophetic passages. In general terms this usage may remind us that the New Testament Gospel-writers will have regarded the testimony of God-given Scripture as more reliable than uncertain and sometimes conflicting human memories. (Coggins and Han, Six Minor Prophets Through the Centuries: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi)
Matthew seems to have taken the prophecy especially literally. Charlene McAfee Moss reports:
Where Luke 19:30 follows Mark 11:2 with respect to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples...the parallel passage in Matthew 21:2 describes two animals–they will find an ass tied and her colt with her...Mark and Luke contain no reference to fulfillment of Scripture in this part of their narratives, however, an echo of Genesis 49:11a may be discerned in the expression, “a colt tied” (Moss, The Zechariah Tradition and the Gospel of Matthew, 80)
Richard Coggins (b. 1929) and Jin H. Han expound:
Matthew 21:4 has brought it into the Gospel’s own characteristic structure, using the same formula as is found frequently there, specifically referring to this as a word “spoken through the prophet.” It is argued that the form of the text used by Matthew already prepared the way for such a reading (Max Wilcox 1988:199-201), and this might tie in with the existence of a collection of Testimonia...Matthew’s reading has been criticized by Jewish scholars on the grounds that he is interpreting poetry as literal fact (Jon D. Levenson [b. 1949] 1993:8). Certainly it seems likely that what was poetic parallelism in the original...has been understood by Matthew as a reference to two animals, on both of which Jesus is to be envisaged as riding into Jerusalem! (Coggins and Han, Six Minor Prophets Through the Centuries: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi)
Though not explicitly cited, Zechariah 9:9 likely influenced Mark’s gospel as well. Henk Jan de Jonge (b. 1943) suspects:
According to Mark 11:7-11, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt. Matthew, in his reworking of this passage (Matthew 21:4), adds the comment that ‘this took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”’ This is a quotation from Zechariah 9:9, which does not yet occur in Mark. Yet many interpreters of Mark are of the opinion...that Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem alludes to Zechariah 9:9, even if Mark avoids quoting Zechariah explicitly at this point. Not only in Matthew, but also in Mark, is the colt riding the animal mentioned in Zechariah 9:9. (Christopher Tuckett [b. 1948], “The Cleansing of the Temple in Mark 11:15 and Zechariah 14:21”, The Book of Zechariah and Its Influence, 87)
The Christian connection to Jesus has monopolized the interpretation of this Jewish text. Richard Coggins (b. 1929) and Jin H. Han acknowledge:
Largely Christian interpretation has dominated the understanding of a somewhat obscure passage. Jewish writers recognized that there had been a Christian “take-over,” but no concerted alternative interpretation emerged...Joyce G. Baldwin [1921-1995] is perhaps optimistic when she says that “most commentators agree that the Messianic king is foreshadowed here” (Baldwin 1972:163), but it is certainly true that a “messianic” understanding has been widely proposed. One approach which combines a “messianic” type of understanding and has been acceptable to later Judaism has been to see here a reference to Judas Maccabaeus, never a king, but treated, at least by the author of I Maccabees, in quasi-royal terms. Certainly one strand of later Jewish tradition, exemplified by Ibn Ezra [1089-1167], saw in the figure depicted here a reference to Judas Maccabaeus. More generally, it may be that our passage was interpreted by the author of I Maccabees as referring to the exploits of the Hasmoneans, and in particular Jonathan (I Maccabees 11:60-74, 12:1-38, 13:6-11) (Andrew Chester [b. 1948] 1988:152). There is also a possible reference of this kind among the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QM 12:12). (Coggins and Han, Six Minor Prophets Through the Centuries: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi)
The New Testament’s usage of the text does ring true to Zechariah’s original intent. Carol L. Meyers (b. 1942) and Eric M. Meyers (b. 1940) affirm:
The New Testament (Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15) is quite comfortable with the imagery of the passage; in adhering to its peaceful tone, it remains faithful to the original intent of Zechariah. (Meyers and Meyers, Zechariah 9-14 (Anchor Bible), 129)
Given this tradition, Jesus’ conscription of the donkey would likely have evoked messianic hopes in the spectators. Paul R. Eddy (b. 1959) discerns:
With Zechariah (among others) supplying the prophetic script, Jesus’ entry into the city on a donkey and his subsequent temple action (whatever else it signifies) would have consciously evoked messianic expectations. (Carey C. Newman [b. 1959], “The (W)Right Jesus: Eschatological Prophet, Israel’s Messiah, Yahweh Embodied”, Jesus & the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright [b. 1948]’s Jesus and the Victory of God, 51)
Jesus is intentional about entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Matthew 21:1-3; Mark 11:1-3; Luke 19:29-31). In doing so, he plays upon Jewish tradition to inform the initiated that he is the long awaited messiah, “humble, and mounted on a donkey”.

Who does this prophecy most benefit? Do its words apply only to Jesus or has it been fulfilled in other ways? Does the prophecy’s existence lead to its fulfillment; is this art reflecting life or life reflecting art? Would Jesus have utilized the donkey had Zechariah not made his prophecy? Did the prophets guide Jesus’ ministry? How much of his identity did Jesus glean from tradition?

“Persistent prophecy is a familiar way of assuring the event.” - George Gissing (1857-1903), “An Author at Grass: Extracts from the Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft”, The Fortnightly Review, Volume LXXII: July to December 1902, p. 337

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rabboni! (John 20:16)

What did Mary Magdalene say to Jesus when she recognized Him after His resurrection? “Rabboni”

John’s gospel records that Mary Magdalene is the first to see the risen Christ (John 20:1-18). Mary stands outside of the empty tomb weeping before two angels question her regarding the reason for her tears (John 20:11-13). After responding to the angelic inquiry, Mary turns and sees Jesus, though she does not recognize him; instead she presumes him to be the gardener (John 20:14-15). When Jesus calls her by her name, she perceives his identity and returns the gesture, exclaiming, “Rabboni!” (John 20:16).

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). (John 20:16 NASB)
When uttering the caritative “Rabboni”, Mary is most likely excited (John 20:16). Many translations add an explanation point (ESV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) though some do not (ASV, CEV, KJV).

Of the four canonical gospels, John alone records that Mary calls Jesus by this name. Jack W. Stallings (b. 1944) remarks:

This is apparently the term by which she has habitually addressed Jesus and, for some reason, John thinks it important that his readers know the very word she uses. (Stallings, The Gospel of John (The Randall House Bible Commentary), 279)
The text notes that Mary turns to Jesus at the sound of her name, a posture she seemingly already has assumed (John 20:14, 16). Shelly Rambo (b. 1968) observes:
There is a slight confusion in the text about Mary’s positioning. It says that Jesus speaks her name and that she turns around and responds to him [John 20:16]. But isn’t Mary already facing Jesus? At first she was looking into the tomb, speaking to the angels [John 20:11]. Then she turns and speaks to him (without recognizing him) [John 20:14]. When he speaks her name, we assume that she is facing him. But the next verse calls that into question [John 20:16]. It says that she turns and responds by speaking his name. Somewhere between speaking to him as the gardener and speaking his name, did she turn away?...Many explain it by saying that the saying that the second turn is not literal; it merely emphasizes Mary’s comprehension of Jesus’ identity. The turning highlights her moment of recognition. (Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, 86)
Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) informs:
The use of Mary’s name draws her attention because obviously the gardener knows her personally. Yet Mary had already turned towards the man (same verb) in John 20:14. Those who try to deal with the duplication without resorting to literary criticism (i.e., the joining of once independent accounts) usually suppose that Mary had turned away in the meantime. (Brown, The Gospel According to John, XIII-XXI (The Anchor Bible), 991)
James L. Resseguie (b. 1945) posits:
The second turning is redundant, since Mary has already turned once to Jesus. Thus the second turning must represent a spiritual turning, an awakening. (Resseguie, The Strange Gospel: Narrative Design and Point of View in John, 149)
Nicolas Farelly (b. 1978) evaluates:
This new “turn” is best explained by Rudolf Bultmann [1884-1976], John, 686...for whom it “signifies the sudden and lively movement towards him as μή μου ἂρτου John 20:17 shows.” Additionally, as is explained by Dorothy A. Lee [b. 1953], “Turning from Death to Life: A Biblical Reflection on Mary Magdalene,” 114, these successive “turns” may indicate that “at each point,” Mary moves closer and closer to what she seeks. Misunderstanding in the end, leads her to understanding.” A similar interpretation to Lee’s is given by Jean Zumstein [b. 1944], L’évangile Selon Saint Jean (13-21), 279...“Marie Madelein se détourne du tombeau qui signifie, pour elle, la réalité de la mort, pour se diriger vers le vivant.” (Farelly, The Disciples in the Fourth Gospel: A Narrative Analysis of Their Faith and Understanding, 159)
Mary’s body language corresponds with her exclamation: She is experiencing a moment of recognition. Jo-Ann A. Brant (b. 1956) analyzes:
The narrator marks her reaction first by noting her movement—being turned—suggesting that she has looked away after making her demand and Jesus’s words cause her to turn about suddenly [John 20:16]. The double turn puzzles exegetes, but Ernst Haenchen [1894-1975]’s observation—“for reasons of rhythm, one hesitates to dispense with it” (1984, 2:209)—may point to the importance of the phrase for the operation of the story. John marks the moment of recognition with a word, “Rabbouni,”...With dramatic economy and without the interjections by an omniscient narrator, the Gospel represents the private experience of recognition through public displays of emotion. Her choice of address is not the language of faith but of reunion (Kasper Bro Larsen [b. 1972] 2008, 190). The personal address “Mariam” calls for a more personal response. She has not been prepared to see Jesus by any prior witness. The response is a pure outpouring of joy. (Brant, John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 270)
John uncharacteristically leaves the word “Rabboni” in its original language though the gospel does gloss the term for the book’s Hellenistic audience. Like a movie where only a few words need be subtitled, John’s use of “Rabboni” stands out (John 20:16).

R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) deduces:

The reader knows Greek and only Greek. Such common terms as “Rabbi” (John 1:38), “Messiah” (John 1:41), and “Rabboni” (John 20:16) must be translated. Names are also translated to convey their meaning (Cephas, John 1:42; Siloam, John 9:7). Where Hebrew or Aramaic terms are introduced (Bethesda, Gabbatha, and Golgotha), they are referred to as foreign words (“in Hebrew,” John 5:2, 19:13, 17) rather than as the names by which the reader would know these locations. Their presence adds credibility to the account. (Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel, 218-19)
John refers to “Rabboni” as “Hebrew” (ASV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NLT, NRSV, RSV) though it is actually “Aramaic” (CEV, ESV, NIV). Some translations simply omit this clause presumably to avoid the imprecision (KJV, NKJV).

Robert Kysar (b. 1934) acknowledges:

Rabboni is a more personal address to a teacher, one which reflects warmth and affection. John’s translation (Teacher) is consistent with John 1:38, although “my master” might be a more exact rendering of the Aramaic. (John calls it Hebrew, as he is prone to do with Aramaic words, e.g. John 19:13.) (Kysar, John (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament), 300)
Though something might be lost in translation, for John’s purposes the word means “teacher” (John 20:16). John’s definition provides the text’s own internal meaning of the term.

Holly E. Hearon (b. 1956) connects:

The identification is underlined...when Mary, in the moment that she recognizes Jesus, calls him “Rabboni.” Throughout the gospel Jesus is addressed as “Rabbi” by his followers (John 1:38, 49, 3:2, 4:31, 6:25,9:2, 11:18). However, both the first (John 1:38) and last time (John 20:16) this title is used it is accompanied by the parenthetical statement: “which means teacher.” This suggests that the storyteller wants the audience to hear these two verses together. (Hearon, The Mary Magdalene Tradition: Witness and Counter-Witness in Early Christian Communities, 160)
Like the Greek text, English versions leave the word in its original language. The term rhabboní is transliterated “Rabboni” (ASV, CEV, ESV, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT), “Rabbouni” (HCSB, NRSV) or “Rab-bo’ni” (RSV).

D.A. Carson (b. 1946) explains:

Rabbouni or rabboni (the spelling varies in the manuscripts) appears to be an extended form of the more familiar rabbi (literally, ‘my teacher’). The term appears elsewhere in the New Testament only at Mark 10:51...In rabbinical Hebrew the term is regularly applied to God (in the expression ribbônô šel ‘ôlām, ‘rabbi of the world’), and this prompts Sir Edwyn Clement Hoskyns [1884-1937] (p. 543) to argue that although it may be used in reference to a human rabbi, it is never used in addressing a human rabbi. Mary’s address therefore becomes a form of address to God, not unlike John 20:28. But it has often been pointed out that rabboni is used in addressing men in the Palestinian and Jerusalem Targums (Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures). As far as John is concerned, he offers Didaskale (‘Teacher’) as his translation for both ‘Rabbi’ (John 1:38) and ‘Rabboni’ (John 20:16). (Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 646)
“Rabboni” is a title for honored teachers intensified to convey the highest affection. In the New Testament, the title is spoken only twice, both times of Jesus, by Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51) and Mary Magdalene (John 20:16).

Herman Ridderbos (1909-2007) defines:

“Rabbouni” literally means “my teacher” or “my master,” but it is used elsewhere simply as an equivalent to the common word “Rabbi.” Nevertheless, in this description of Jesus’ appearance to Mary there is undeniably something very personal. Unlike his other resurrection appearances, here Jesus simply calls her by name and she recognizes him as she hears him. So the way in which she turns to him and answers him with “Rabbouni” does have a strong personal and affective component (see also “my Lord” in John 20:13). All this is easy to link with her prehistory as a woman saved by Jesus from great distress (Mark 16:9), but the Evangelist does not mention this. (Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, 637)
In later years, the Jews recognized three levels of teachers: rab (lowest), rabbi, rabboni (highest). This hierarchy does not seem to be in place in John’s gospel given that the gospel’s internal translation makes it interchangeable with “rabbi”.

Leon Morris (1914-2006) compares:

It is often said that the word means much the same as “Rabbi”. Etymologically this may be so, though we should not overlook the point made by W.F. Albright [1891-1971] that the term is a caritative with a meaning like “my (dear (or) little) master” (The Background of the New Testament and its Eschatology, p.158). But the usage is decisive. “Rabbi” is frequently used as a form of address, but “Rabboni” is not cited in this way (other than in prayer, of address to God). Matthew Black [1908-1994], however, points to its use in the old Palestinian Pentateuch Targum (see p. 119, n. 136; he regards it as a much more reliable guide to first-century Aramaic than the Onkelos Targum which is the basis of much of Gustaf Dalman [1855-1941]’s argument), which “shows that it cannot have been uncommon in earlier Palestinian Aramaic for a human lord” (An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, p. 21). He does not, however, cite any example of the term as a form of address to a human lord. (Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 839)
Beauford H. Bryant (1923-1997) and Mark S. Krause (b. 1955) add:
The precise distinction between “Rabbouni’ and the more common “Rabbi” is difficult to see, although some have suggested that “Rabbouni” shows greater respect and is therefore more suitable for use by a woman. This may be the case, but these subtle distinctions would be as lost on John’s original readers as they are on us today. More likely is that John is concerned to preserve the actual word used by Mary. (Bryant and Krause,John (The College Press NIV Commentary), 394)
The vocative appellation does seem to indicate intimacy. Francis J. Moloney (b.1940) discusses:
The name Jesus calls Mary and her response are Greek transliterations of Aramaic, although the narrator explains that it is Hebrew. There is a level of intimacy implied by the recourse to an original language in both the naming and the response (cf. Robert Gordon Maccini [b. 1951], Her Testimony is True 212-213). Some (e.g., B.F. Westcott [1825-1901], Gospel 292; John Marsh (1904-1994), Saint John 637) mistakenly argue that Rabbouni is quasi-divine. A number of scholars (e.g., Sir Edwyn Clement Hoskyns [1884-1937], Gospel 542; Marsh, Saint John 633, 636-637; Béda Rigaux [1899-1982], Dio l’ha risuscitato 324-325; Sandra M. Schneiders [b.1936], “John 20:11-18" 162-164) regard Mary’s addressing Jesus as Rabbouni as an authentic confession of faith. Others (André Feuillet [1909-1998], “Le recherche du Christ” 93-112; Mark W.G. Stibbe [b. 1960], John 205; Teresa Okure [b. 1941], “Jesus’ Commission” 181) trace in this encounter the experience of the bride seeking the spouse in the early hours of the dawn in Song of Solomon 3:1-3. (Moloney, The Gospel of John (Sacra Pagina), 528)
Mary’s use of “rabboni” parallels Jesus’ personal direct address earlier in the verse (John 20:16). Adeline Fehribach (b. 1950) recognizes:
When Mary Magdalene does recognize Jesus through his calling her by name, she responds by calling out “Rabbouni,” not “Rabbi” (cf. John 1:38). Although English texts usually render this title “Teacher,” some scholars maintain that “Rabbouni” is the equivalent of “My Master” or “My Teacher,” rather than just “Master” or “Teacher.” This personalization of the title makes it a term of endearment. On one level of the text, the use of this particular title by Mary Magdalene may indicate that she does not yet understand the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. On another level of the text, however, the personalization makes up for the fact that the christology of the implied author would not allow Mary Magdalene to call Jesus by his given name. No one in the Fourth Gospel calls Jesus by his given name. As one who has been sent above by the Father, Jesus’s aloofness from the world would not have allowed for it. Nevertheless, combined with Jesus’ calling Mary Magdalene by name, Mary Magdalene’s use of a personalized title for Jesus makes the Johannine text reminiscent of Chaereas and Callirhoe who call out each other’s name. (Fehribach, The Women in the Life of the Bridegroom: A Feminist Historical-Literary Analysis of the Female Characters in the Fourth Gospel, 159-60)
What is undeniable is that in calling Jesus “Rabboni” Mary Magdalene is now aware of his identity. (John 20:16). There are parallel recognition scenes in other cultures. Raymond E. Brown (1929-1998) catalogs:
Some have found here an adaptation of the recognition scene that appears in stories of the Greco-Roman gods as they walk among men (Martin Dibelius [1883-1947], Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 33 [1918], 137). However, C.H. Dodd [1884-1973] is correct in insisting that a prolonged recognition is common the Circumstantial Narratives of Jesus’ appearances (p. 973)...The two disciples on the road to Emmaus walked and talked with Jesus for a while before they recognized him in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:31, 35). In John 21 we shall find Jesus standing on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias and talking with the disciples about fishing, before finally the Beloved Disciple recognizes him [John 21:1-7]. Such difficult recognitions may have had an apologetic purpose: they show that the disciples were not credulously expecting to see the risen Jesus. But they also have a theological dimension. (Brown, The Gospel According to John, XIII-XXI (The Anchor Bible), 1008-1009)
In this moment of revelation, Mary’s perception of Jesus transitions from a corpse, an object, to a living subject. Kathryn Madden sees this as being conveyed in Mary’s turning to Jesus:
The scriptural narrative does not indicate that Mary has ever turned away from Jesus in the first place. The pivotal point is that when the angels first ask Mary why she is weeping, she cannot recognize Jesus as the risen Christ but only through her projections as a gardener [John 20:15]. Then, in contrast to a bodily act, when we turn the second time, we come to know that we are separate but related to the divine source who meets us in the dark night of the imageless space. There is no one other than God who is capable of being such a reliable and eternal mother-mirror. If we are fully given to this source, we are transformed into the same image. In psychological terms, this moment of self reflection would be an instant when perception gives way to apperception, when “object” turns into a “subject.”...We can look into the psyche and think we “see him,” but he is hidden from us, for whatever reasons of human defense structures. When Christ does reveal himself, we may not “see him” because we are caught in our own projections. The second turning, then, is a profound transfigurative moment for Mary as well as the Risen Christ. We see all essences in their restored, eternal form. It is the eternal essence of the Risen Christ who Mary greets as “Rabbouni.” (David A. Leeming [b. 1937], Madden and Stanton Marlan [b. 1943], Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, Volume Two: L-Z, 550)
In this exchange, both Jesus and Mary Magdalene utter only a single word. Yet these words speak volumes. Frederick Dale Bruner (b. 1932) quips, “This is Jesus’ shortest sermon.” (Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 1151)

Adele Reinhartz (b. 1953) interprets:

In identifying her by name, Jesus is acting out the role of the good shepherd who calls his own sheep (John 10:26). Mary’ recognition of Jesus as ‘Rabbouni’ indicates that she is a member of his flock (John 10:27) and demonstrates that she is a true disciple who recognizes the resurrected Jesus as teacher. (Amy-Jill Levine [b. 1956] with Marianne Blickenstaff (b. 1959), “Women in the Johannine Community: An Exercise in Historical Imagination”, A Feminist Companion to John: Volume II, 25)
Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) concurs:
The present scene validates Jesus’ words in John 10:3, “My sheep know my voice” (Rudolf Schnackenburg [1914-2002] 1990: 3.317; Teresa Okure [b. 1941] 1992: 181). (Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 568)
Craig R. Koester (b. 1953) generalizes:
Being called by name is what moves Mary from the conviction that Jesus is dead to the realization that he is alive. This encounter is unique in many respects, yet her experience anticipates the way people of future generations will come to faith. The Gospel speaks to those who have not seen the risen Jesus (John 20:29), and Mary’s story shows that seeing the tomb, seeing the angels, and even seeing Jesus himself do not guarantee faith. Like Mary, others will be called to faith by the risen Jesus. This is reflected in Jesus’ comments about the good shepherd, who “calls his own sheep by name” and leads them out, and they recognize his voice (John 10:3-4, 16, 27). Jesus calls Mary by name outside the empty tomb, but he will also call others to recognize him, sending them as he sent Mary to tell others what has happened. (Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel, 125-26)
Bruce Chilton (b. 1949) agrees:
It is her experience that ultimately teaches the other disciples how to see Jesus as well. (Chilton, Mary Magdalene: A Biography, 130)
Mary Magdalene is emerging from her grief and awakening to a new reality. In this moment of recognition both Jesus and Mary Magdalene identify each other. Though their relationship will not be the same (John 20:17), Mary has found the Jesus for whom she is looking.

What about being called by name triggers Mary Madalene’s positive identification of Jesus? Why does John preserve Mary’s address in its original language? Is calling Jesus “Rabboni” equivalent to his calling her by her name? What is the most you have ever heard conveyed by a single word? When have you suddenly been able to perceive that God had been present in a situation long before you sensed it? In that instance, what prevented you from seeing God previously? In what ways is Mary Magdalene’s revelation a template for all who believe in the resurrected Jesus? Would you recognize Jesus if you saw him?

Mary is caught off guard and as such her response is completely unprompted. As in many impromptu utterances, her one word response is telling.

Rodney A. Whitacre (b. 1949) surmises:

Jesus calls her by the name he used for her before, and she responds with the title she used before [John 20:16]. She would naturally assume that their relationship could pick up where it left off and continue on as before. Jesus’ response, however, lets her know there has been a radical change in him and consequently in his relationship with his followers [John 20:17]. (Whitacre, John (IVP New Testament Commentary), 476)
Some have seen Mary’s use of “Rabboni” as a failure, or at best an incomplete understanding of the situation. Of the title “rabboni”, Karen L. King (b. 1954) regrets that it indicates “a relatively low standing on the hierarchical scale of Johannine Christological titles.” (King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, 131)

Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) traces:

Even when Jesus calls Mary by name, her pilgrimage is not over. In her initial reply she calls Jesus Rabbouni (my master), which suggests that she still thinks of Jesus in terms of her past friendship with him, as her teacher. This is verified by the translation the evangelist gives to the term—Teacher (John 20:16). At this juncture it becomes clear that it is no longer adequate to relate to Jesus as a great sage. He must now be seen as more that just a conveyor of Wisdom. Her reaction is of course natural and also involves her clinging to Jesus. (Witherington, John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, 331)
Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) critiques:
The present reference is the only instance of the term “rabbi” in the second half of John’s Gospel. Since John 13-21 is told from the vantage point of the exalted Jesus, Mary’s address of Jesus as “rabbi” indicates that she has not yet comes to terms with the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. (Ben Witherington III [b. 1951] 1995: 331). (Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 568-69)
Jane Schaberg (1938-2012) examines:
Mary Magdalene’s use of the title Rabbouni is often thought of as another sign of her ignorance. It is a “modest” title, says Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998], “characteristic of the beginning of faith rather than of its culmination,” certainly falling far short of Thomas’ ‘My Lord and my God; in John 20:28. He is tempted to theorize that by using this “old” title the Johannine Magdalene is showing her misunderstanding of the resurrection: she thinks she can now follow Jesus in the same way she did during the ministry. Such thinking may indicate she has an inferior faith, and does not possess the Spirit: “[O]ne may wonder if her use of an inadequate title does not imply that only when the Spirit is given (John 20:22) is full faith in the risen Jesus possible.” Her use of the title “Lord” in John 20:18 makes this reasoning less plausible, but it is nevertheless common, in spite of her use of “Lord” in John 20:2 also. (Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, 328)
Morna D. Hooker (b.1931) determines:
In case we do not see the significance of her words, the evangelist explains that they mean “my Teacher.” [John 20:16] She still doesn’t really understand. She knows only that Jesus has come back, the old Jesus, the Jesus she knew and loved. She supposes that in spite of everything that has happened, life will now go on just as before...When she calls him “Rabbouni,” Mary is clearly thinking in terms of her old relationship with the earthly Jesus. When she holds on to him, she is wanting to perpetuate that relationship. The time for that is past. A new era has begun. From now on, she must learn to “hold on” to him in a new, spiritual way. (Dave Fleer [b. 1953] and Dave Bland [b. 1953], Preaching John’s Gospel: The World It Imagines, “Seeing and Believing”, 141-42)
Though Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus, her identification is incomplete. Anthony J. Kelly (b. 1938) and Francis J. Moloney (b. 1940) assess:
A moment of recognition follows; yet her way of addressing Jesus is still according to her previous experience of him: “Rabbouni” (John 20:16b)—pointedly translated once again as “Teacher” (cf. John 1:38, 20:16). She is yet to acknowledge him as “the Lord” (John 20:18), in whom the glory of the Father is revealed. Jesus summons her into the luminous darkness of a new relationship to him: Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17a). She is to relate to him, not in terms of past experience, but as the one who has come from the Father and is not returning to him. (Kelly and Moloney, Experiencing God in the Gospel of John, 377)
Jesus is not merely an ethical teacher. Henry Gariepy (1930-2010) corrects:
It is not enough that we ascribe to Christ those titles of respect and tradition. We, too, must know Him as our risen Lord. We, too, have a mandate and mission to proclaim the Good News from a personal experience, ‘I have seen the Lord.’ Only a vibrant encounter with the resurrected Christ and a recognition of His mighty power leads us to know Him as He truly is and to share His message with others. In that discovery is our destiny. (Gariepy, 100 Portraits of Christ, 103-04)
Though no one enduring so much emotional turmoil ought be criticized, Mary Magdalene wrongly assumes that life will return to normal. This is seen as she tries to cling to Jesus and the Lord’s subsequent rebuffing of these efforts (John 20:17). Mary attempts to pick up where they left off, to recapture the past. But life can nonot revert to business as usual. As is often the case with death, Mary Magdalene must adjust to the rhythm of a new normal.

Her relationship with Jesus will take on new meaning. Though Mary Magdalene is ahead of the curve as the first to identify the risen savior, her revelation is incomplete. She is still Mary. Jesus, however, is no longer merely “Rabboni”.

When have you encountered someone whose personal transformation resulted in a changed relationship? What does Mary Magdalene’s identification of Jesus reveal of her relationship to him? Is she wrong to call him “Rabboni”? What should she have called Jesus? What do you call Jesus? How would you identify Jesus: lord, liar, lunatic, etc.?

“Recognizing isn’t at all like seeing; the two often don’t even agree, and it’s sometimes a less effective way of determining what is.” - Sten Nadolny (b. 1942), The Discovery of Slowness

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Clothes Make the Man? (Exodus 28:4)

Who wore an ephod? The high priest (Exodus 28:4)

In defining Aaron’s role as the high priest for the new nation of Israel, God establishes a very strict dress code (Exodus 28:4-43). God commands Moses:

“These are the garments which they shall make: a breastpiece and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of checkered work, a turban and a sash, and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me.” (Exodus 28:4 NASB)
Maxie Dunnam (b. 1934) comments:
The garments were very ornate, of fine linen, intricately embroidered, not to draw attention to the priest, but to the office, the function. Seven pieces of apparel are described. (Dunnam, Exodus (Mastering the Old Testament), 338)
Of the cataloged items, the ephod is unquestionably one of the most important. It is meticulously described with explicit instructions as to its construction (Exodus 28:6-14, 39:1-17) .

Ronald E. Clements (b. 1929) prioritizes:

The ephod was the most important item of the clothing of a priest, and was apparently at one time the only substantial item worn (I Samuel 2:28, 14:3, 22:18). It consisted of a loin-cloth fastened by a strap or belt around the hips. It was probably, at a very distant time, the normal item of dress for everybody. (Clements, Exodus (Cambridge Bible Commentary), 181)
Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) counters:
The ephod is the second most important item of clothing the priest wears after the breastpiece. The reason for describing the ephod before the breastpiece may be because it provides the support for the breastpiece (Umberto Cassuto [1883-1951] 1967: 373). (Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, 485)
Whether ranking first or second in importance, the ephod is highly significant.

The term ephod is a transliteration of the Hebrew ‘êphôd. Though this term is not in popular use most translations leave it untranslated (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) though some Bibles using contemporary language render the garment “priestly vest” (CEV).

The exact meaning of the term has not been determined. Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) traces:

We remain uncertain of the origin of the word ’ēpōd. John A. Tvedtnes [b. 1941] (1982) connects the Hebrew word with the Egyptian ifd/y/yfd (“cloth”). Others suggest that the Hebrew word is cognate with Akkadian epattu (“a costly garment’). (Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, 485)
Robert Alter (b. 1935) speculates:
The ephod (the Hebrew root suggests “binding” or “wrapping around”) evidently was a kind of apron, though opinions differ on this. It has a secondary meaning as an oracular device. (Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, 474)
The ephod is a distinct item. Douglas K. Stuart (b. 1943) differentiates:
In the divine instructions given to Moses in this chapter, the ephod is distinguished from the breastpiece that was attached to it for the purpose of diving God’s will through Urim and Thummim. The term ephod, however, came to include automatically the notion of “ephod with breastpiece attached” since the two pieces were not used separately, and after the book of Exodus one encounters the term “ephod” rather consistently for the ephod-breastpiece assembly. (Stuart, Exodus (New American Commentary), 606)
In spite of the relatively large space devoted to the ephod, it cannot be replicated with any certainty; its exact form and function remain indeterminate. H.L Ellison (1903-1983) acknowledges:
We have no means of giving a definitive meaning to “ephod”, the English being simply a transliteration of the Hebrew. As R. Alan Cole [1923-2003] says, “The extent of our puzzlement is shown by the fact that we do not know whether the ephod was a waistcoat or a kilt, to use modern terms.” (Ellison, Exodus (Daily Study Bible), 152)
Cornelis Van Dam (b. 1946) elaborates:
Opinion is divided about where the ephod was worn. One view holds that it was like an apron and worn below the waist (Menahem Haran [b. 1924], 106). The rendering of the Septuagint...and the testimony of Josephus [37-100] (Antiquities of the Jews 3.7.5. §162), however, favor the interpretation that it was worn on the upper part of the body. Such ephodlike garments have been attested in New Kingdom Egypt, indicating some cultural affinity with the Old Testament ephod. (T. Desmond Alexander [b. 1955] and David W. Baker [b. 1950], “Priestly Clothing”, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, 643)
Carol Meyers (b. 1942) concedes:
Neither of these priestly vestments can be reconstructed with confidence, but several aspects of each, apart from the other, can be discerned. Although not the first item in the introductory list, the ephod (Exodus 28:6-14) is the first for which directions are given. Perhaps this piece comes at the beginning because of its apparent antiquity in the array of Israelite priestly apparel. In addition to the priestly texts of the Pentateuch, it appears in a handful of deuteronomic texts relating to the premonarchic and early monarchic periods; and an equivalent term appears in other ancient Semitic texts. These sources contain such disparate information, however, that it is very difficult to understand what an ephod looked like or how it was used. Scholars have struggled with the ephod problem since antiquity. The appearance and use of the ephod clearly varied over the millennium or more represented by all these sources. What is constant is that the ephod always related to ritual matters – sometimes as a ritual garment, sometimes as a divinatory device, and sometimes as both. In Exodus and other priestly texts, its detail and its association with the breastpiece make it likely that it was worn by the priest and used for oracular purposes. (Meyers, Exodus (New Cambridge Bible Commentary), 242)
The term’s inconsistent use within the Bible further muddies the waters. Brevard S. Childs (1923-2007) reports:
It remains a question whether the description of the ephod is consistent throughout the entire Old Testament. In the earlier period, especially in the Micah stories (Judges 17:1-13), the ephod is associated with ‘house gods’ in a manner which is no longer fully clear (cf. also I Samuel 2:18; II Samuel 6:14, 20). However, in Exodus the ephod is part of the priestly clothing, being a type of apron of different colors on which the breastpiece was attached. Cf. the depiction by Kurt Galling [1900-1987], Exodus, p. 141. The other critical literature is cited by Julian Morgenstern [1881-1976]...pp. 114ff., the more recent by Rudolf Smend [1851-1913], Biblisch-historisches Handwörterbuch, col. 420 and Roland De Vaux [1903-1971], Ancient Israel: Its Life and Instructions, p. 544. (Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Old Testament Library), 527)
Randall C. Bailey (b. 1951) conjectures:
The term “ephod” seems to imply two different kinds of cultic objects. Often in connection with the teraphim as well as images, the ephod at times was regarded as idolatrous (Judges 17:3-5, 18:14, 17-20; for the teraphim see I Samuel15:23; II Kings 23:24). Gideon created an ephod by which Israel “prostituted themselves by worshiping it there and it became a snare to Gideon and his family” (Judges 8:24). Goliath’s sword was kept “wrapped in cloth behind the ephod” (I Samuel 21:9). The ephod could be worn or carried (I Samuel 2:18, 28, 14:3, 22:18...II Samuel 6:14; I Chronicles 15:27). Its use to ascertain the divine will (I Samuel 23:9-11) seems to have produced the phrase “breastpiece of decision” (משפט חשו, hōšen mišpat, Exodus 28:15, 29). Such varied uses are difficult to reconcile. (Bailey, Exodus (The College Press NIV Commentary), 305)
Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) suggests:
Subsequent references to this ephod may or may not be referring to the high priest’s golden ephod (see Philip R. Davies [b. 1945] 1975: especially 84-85). For example, the ephod Gideon “set up” (Judges 8:27) seems to be a statue or an upright object rather than a garment (also see Judges 18:18), “the statue/carved image of the ephod [pesel hā’‘ēpôd]”. And how do young Samuel (I Samuel 2:18) and dancing David (II Samuel 6:14) get away with wearing something that only the high priest is to wear? Maybe there is more than one kind of ephod. Or maybe all ephod references are to the same phenomenon, but a phenomenon that has different manifestations throughout Israel’s history. (Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, 486)
Despite the uncertainty, at the very least a rough sketch of the garment can be reconstructed. Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) characterizes:
The ephod is shaped liked an apron encircling the body and covers the loins (maybe from waist to thigh). It is kept in position on the body by means of two shoulder pieces (Exodus 28:7) and a fastening band (Exodus 28:8). Gold is its most dominant material and color. This is indicated by Exodus 28:6, which lists gold before it lists any fabrics. (Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, 485)
Terry W. Eddinger (b. 1964) envisions:
An ornate, sleeveless outer garment worn by the Israelite high priest. Exodus 28:6-10 describes the ephod as a garment made of fine, twisted linen decorated with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet material. Two shoulder pieces and a woven belt made of the same material complete the outfit. Affixed to the shoulder pieces were two onyx stones inscribed with the names of the sons of Israel. A breastplate made of the same materials and decorated with 12 precious stones, symbolizing the 12 tribes, was attached by golden rings to the front of the ephod (Exodus 28:15-28). A pocket in the breastplate stored the Urim and Thummim, the lots of divination. (David Noel Freedman [1922-2008], “Ephod”, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 415)
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (b. 1933) delineates:
The ephod probably was a high priestly waistcoat woven of blue, purple, scarlet, and white linen thread—all entwined with gold thread. Instead of having sleeves or being joined at the sides, it was hung from the shoulders by straps on each of which one onyx stone was mounted on top of a golden clasp, with the names of the six younger sons of Israel engraved on one stone and the six elder sons engraved on the other stone (Exodus 28:9-10). The Septuagint makes the onyx “emeralds,” while Josephus [37-100] (Antiquities of the Jews 3.165 [7.5]) makes them “sardonyx,” the best variety of onyx...A “waistband” (Exodus 28:8) made of the same material and style as the ephod held the front and back of the ephod to the priest’s body. It had no significance of its own. (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Genesis ~Leviticus (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 527)
There are parallels to the ephod in other cultures of the period. Bruce Wells (b. 1968) addresses:
This description [Exodus 28:6] portrays the ephod as a rather expensive piece of clothing. A similar garment appears to be mentioned in Old Assyrian texts (the term is epattu) and in a few documents from Ugarit (ipd in Ugaritic). There is some hint that these garments were also costly though the evidence is inconclusive. Based on the biblical account, the ephod was like an apron that wrapped around the body from the waist down. Depictions of similar garments on figures that appear to be royal and/or divine have been preserved in artistic representations from New Kingdom Egypt. These garments include shoulder straps, fastened to the main piece by gems in similar fashion to the priestly ephod. Their purpose is unclear, as is any connection to their Israelite counterpart. (John H. Walton [b. 1952], Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 253)
Due to these similarities some critical scholars have speculated that the ephod’s origins lay outside of Israel. William T. Miller (b. 1941) informs:
The ephod was apparently a vestlike garment that had in the past been used to decorate idols; in various places in the Old Testament, its use was prohibited. William H.C. Propp [b. 1957] suggests that P deliberately uses it in the legitimate cult, rather than avoid mentioning the existence of the garment altogether. (Miller, The Book of Exodus: Question by Question, 311)
Regardless of its origins, the ephod’s design carries considerable meaning within the context of Israel and later Christianity. Maxie Dunnam (b. 1934) observes:
The ephod (Exodus 28:6-14) included all the colors which have come to symbolize the characteristics of the person of Christ: gold—purity and power; blue—spiritual/divine; purple—sovereign king; scarlet—sacrifice. (Dunnam, Exodus (Mastering the Old Testament), 338)
The attire directly correlates to the high priest’s role. Peter Enns (b. 1961) connects:
We are not told here what its purpose is, but other biblical texts indicate that it is a means of finding God’s will (I Samuel 23:9-11, 30:7-8). The high priest functions not only in a sacrificial role but also as a conduit for God’s revelation to the people. (Enns, Exodus (The NIV Application Commentary), 530)
Of special significance is the inclusion of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel into the garment (Exodus 28:9-10). Carol Meyers (b. 1942) recognizes:
Two of the items, the ephod and breatspiece, are highly specialized, appearing almost exclusively in priestly contexts and probably having a specific role in ritual practice. Although very different in their construction, these two items share certain features. For one thing, their importance is signaled by the fact that directions for making them are far more extensive than for other pieces of priestly garb. Another feature is that they are linked structurally with rings and cords. Perhaps most striking is that they are both to be adorned with gemstones engraved for “remembrance” (Exodus 28:12, 19) with the names of the Israelite tribes. This feature has commemorative symbolic value, bringing all Israel into the tabernacle with Aaron as he carries out the rituals thought to help secure the well-being of the people or adjudicate their conflicts. (Meyers, Exodus (New Cambridge Bible Commentary), 241)
J. Gerald Janzen (b. 1932) interprets:
The fact that God instructs these tribal names to be placed on the ephod shows that God intends to remember. But the fact that God instructs the priests to bear these names on their shoulders shows that God calls the priests (and through them the whole people of God) to participate with God in the act of intercessory remembrance. Thus already, in the symbolism of the ephod, we see the two-sided character of intercession as something we do and something God does in and through us (Romans 8:26-27). (Janzen, Exodus (Westminster Bible Companion), 207–08)
The high priest is adorned in ornate attire intended to convey dignity, not of the man but of his position and task. As is often the case with fashion choices, the high priest’s clothing makes a statement before he ever opens his mouth.

What items of clothing are you familiar with which maintain their name from their language of origin? How is the high priest’s wardrobe befitting of his function? What items of clothing are unique to a particular profession? Whose work attire is most identifiable? Does clothing always make a statement? What, if anything, do your clothes say about you?

The high priest obviously stands out. His attire sets him apart, even from other clergy. This pays dividends for all involved. Philip Graham Ryken (b. 1966) appraises:

The grandeur of these garments was important not only for the high priest but also for the nation of Israel. Whenever the priest performed his sacred duties, he represented God’s people. He did not act for himself alone, but for all the people before God. What he wore, therefore, was as important to them as it was to him. (Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God's Glory (Preaching the Word), 871)
The high priest is especially set apart. Thomas B. Dozeman (b. 1952) discusses:
About ritual clothing, John E. Vollmer [b. 1945] states: “Special clothes are used to transform the priest into a ritual celebrant,” who is “capable of bridging the gap between the physical world and the world of the spirits.” Moreover, ritual clothing is shaped by theology, a view of ordination, and liturgical practice. The more the clergy is seen as a priesthood, according to Deborah H. Kraak, the greater will be the visual distinction in clothing between the religious leaders and the laity. This is certainly the case with the priestly vestments in Exodus 28:4-43. The clothing of Aaron as the high priest is the most distinctive, because it signifies his holy status. Most of the sacred vestments focus on the high priest, including the ephod, the breastplate, the Urim and Thummim, the robe, and the turban (Exodus 28:6-38). The vestments of the general priesthood also separate them from the laity, but in a less distinctive way. (Dozeman, Exodus (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 642)
The high priest’s garb serves as a constant reminder to himself and everyone else that he has been consecrated by God for a special task. Every time he dons the ephod he renews his role as an intercessor between the sacred and the profane.

Why would a priest dress differently from parishioners? How is the pope, for instance, benefitted by his unique ensemble? Should clergy and laity dress differently? Since Jesus had to be identified by a traitorous kiss (Matthew 26:48-49; Mark 14:44-45; Luke 22:47-48), he obviously did not stand out; is this a model contemporary Christian ministers should follow when dressing? Is there a greater gap between laity and clergy in denominations whose ministers are governed by a specific dress code? At your place of worship, do clergy dress differently from the parishioners? How important is a minister’s wardrobe?

“Fashion is a language that creates itself in clothes to interpret reality.” - Karl Lagerfeld (b. 1933), renowned fashion designer

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In the Same Boat (Acts 27:37)

How many people were on board Paul’s ship which was shipwrecked? 276 (Acts 27:37)

While recounting the trials he has endured for Christ, Paul informs the Corinthians that he has been shipwrecked three times (II Corinthians 11:25). One of these incidents is documented in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27:14-44). Amid Acts’ account, a minute detail emerges: there are 276 passengers aboard the doomed ship (Acts 27:37).

All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons. (Acts 27:37 NASB)
This line is often treated as a parenthetical aside. Some translations even supply the parentheses (ESV, NRSV, RSV) though the majority do not (ASV, CEV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT).

The insertion of this fact interrupts the text’s flow. Martin Dibelius (1883-1947) determines:

We can see very clearly from Acts 27:37 that there is a lack of continuity here...for wedged in between eating [Acts 27:36] and being satisfied [Acts 37:38], the number of the ship’s company is given at 276. This is obviously a relic of the old literary account, which has no connection with Paul. (Dibelius, The Book of Acts: Form, Style, and Theology, 13)
The verse does serve to identify the undefined “all” in the previous verse (Acts 27:36). C.K. Barrett (1917-2011) connects:
The numbering of those on board the ship follows upon the πάντες [“all”] of Acts 27:36: Luke will tell his readers what πάντες means. Gerhard Schneider [1926-2004] (2.397) however thinks that the number would link originally with Acts 27:32. The article before πασαι indicates the totality of persons present (M. 3.201—‘We were in all...’; Maximilian Zerwick [1901-1975] § 188; Friedrich Blass [1843-1907], Albert Debrunner [1884-1958] and Friedrich Rehkopf [1843-1907] § 275.3, n. 6). (Barrett, Acts 15-28 (International Critical Commentary, 1210)
The precision also fits Acts’ literary style. Joshua W. Jipp (b. 1979) relates:
The narrator adds that “everyone” was encouraged by the meal (εὔθυμοι δὲ αἱ πασαι ψυχαὶ ἐν τω πλοίω διαχόσιαι ἑβδομήχοντα ἕξ, Acts 27:37). This reference to the exact number of “souls” evokes earlier scenes in Acts where Luke recounts the number of “souls” who were converted (Acts 2:41; cf. Acts 4:4). (Jipp, Divine Visitations and Hospitality to Strangers in Luke-Acts, 35)
The detail may be included here because it is at this point in the story when it was discovered. F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) notes:
Arthur Breusing [1818-1892] thinks the number is mentioned at the point because the food had to be rationed. (Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 526)
Kenneth O. Gangel (1935-2009) imagines:
All of a sudden Luke counted heads; perhaps he was involved in the food distribution, and the number of passengers only became important at this point. At any rate, we discover 276 witnesses to the veracity of Paul’s prophecies. (Gangel, Acts (Holman New Testament Commentary), 452)
The headcount also informs the story which follows. Christoph W. Stenschke (b. 1966) connects:
With 276 people landing on their shores, including soldiers, the rural islanders were likely to be outnumbered and did not have much of a choice but to show hospitality (despite Acts 27:33). Possibly their behavior was not based on humanitarian concerns but derived from their belief in Δίχη: should they fail to perform their duties of hospitality, the ever present goddess might turn against them. (Stenschke, Luke’s Portrait of Gentiles Prior to Their Coming to Faith, 96)
Though often deemed superfluous, Acts’ specificity lends credibility to the account, conforms to its own internal literary style, defines terms, creates a better picture of the magnitude of the episode and adds to the later story.

Despite the number’s exactitude, not all manuscripts read 276. Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) informs:

The number 276 is read by manuscripts א, C, ψ, 33, 36, 81, 181, 307, 614, and 1739 of the Alexandrian tradition. The Western Text, MS B, the Sahidic version, and Epiphanius [310-403] read rather: “we were about seventy persons.” This Western Text reading seems to have risen from a dittography of the omega on the dative ploiō, “ship,” after which the cipher for 76 was written so that it was combined with s (= diakosiai, “two hundred”) and taken as the adverb hōs. Other readings: MS A reads “275,” and MS 69, “270.” See A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 442. (Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (Anchor Bible), 779)
C.K. Barrett (1917-2011) expounds:
The number is textually uncertain. The majority of witnesses have διαχόσιαι ἑβδομήχοντα ἕξ, 276; but B (pc) sa have ὡς ἑβδομήχοντα ἕξ, about 76. The textual problem is complicated by the fact that 276, if not written in words, would be written ΓΟΣ, and 76 as ΟΣ. Bruce M. Metzger [1914-2007] (499f.) represents a common opinion in the words, The reading of B sa ‘probably arose by taking ΠΛΟΙΩΓΟΣ as ΠΛΟΙΩΟΣ. In any case, ὡς with an exact statement of number is inappropriate (despite Luke’s penchant for qualifying numbers by using ὡς or ὡσεί, cf. Luke 3:23; Acts 2:41, 4:4, 5:7, 36, 10:3, 13:18, 20, 19:7, 34.’ Metzger notes other variants: A has 275; 69 and Ephraim have 270; bo have 176 or 876; 522 and l have 76; Epiphanius [310-403] has about (ὡς) 70. Metzger (similarly James Hardy Ropes [1866-1933], The Beginnings of Christianity 3.247) is probably right but like most commentators does not note the problem of the iota subscript, which in uncials is often though not always written adscript. Thus the two readings discussed might well be not as given above but ΠΛΟΙΩΓΟΣ and ΠΛΟΙΩΙΩΓΟΣ. This makes simple confusion less likely. (Barrett, Acts 15-28 (International Critical Commentary, 1210)
Some scholars have been skeptical of a number as large as 276. Gerd Lüdemann (b. 1946) remarks:
The reported number on board, 276, is an utterly incredible figure; it evidently represents a remnant of whatever stirring saga has been pressed into service as a vehicle for Paul’s fateful journey to Rome. (Lüdemann, The Acts Of The Apostles: What Really Happened In The Earliest Days Of The Church, 334)
C.K. Barrett (1917-2011) counters:
The number 276 is not impossibly large; Josephus [37-100] (Vita 15) records his own experience of shipwreck (in Adria), as a result of which about 600 were obliged to swim all night. On the size of ships see James Smith [1782-1867] (187-90) and Colin J. Hemer [1930-1987] (149f.) (Barrett, Acts 15-28 (International Critical Commentary, 1210)
Its capacity to transport both the cargo (wheat, Acts 27:38) and 276 passengers and crew indicates a large vessel. Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) deduces:
At Acts 27:37 Luke mentions parenthetically that there were 276 persons on board...This means that Paul was on a fairly substantial-sized boat, though not as large as the one in which Josephus [37-100] traveled on a similar route in about A.D. 63. He, too, experienced shipwreck in the Sea of Adria with some 600 persons on board, but only 80 survived (Vita 15). (Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary, 773)
H. Leo Boles (1874-1946) estimates the ship’s weight at “ten or eleven tons” (Boles, Commentary on Acts, 415). There were ships of this era which could fill this bill.

Loveday Alexander describes:

Greek seamanship drew on an age-old expertise in sailing coastal waters, but was much less confident in crossing the open sea towards Italy. There was, however, a regular trade supplying the voracious imperial city with its luxuries and its basics—top among which was grain. Enormous grain-ships from Egypt regularly made the hazardous crossing from Alexandria via the ports and islands of the southern Aegean. The emperor Caligula [12-41] described them as ‘crack sailing craft, their skippers the most experienced there are; they drive their vessels like race horses on an unswerving course that goes straight as a die’ (Lionel Casson [1914-2009] 1999, p. 158). This was the type of ship Julius found to transport his little group of prisoners to Italy (Acts 27:6). Such a ship could take up to 1000 passengers (probably camping on deck), as well as a hold stuffed with grain (Acts 27:38), so there would be plenty of room for the 276 passengers that Luke mentions on this sailing (Acts 27:37). (Alexander, Acts (Daily Bible Commentary: A Guide for Reflection and Prayer), 187)
Brian M. Rapske (b. 1952) hypothesizes:
Indications of the relative capacity of such ships to carry crew and passengers may be helpful...The Isis had a veritable army of crew members according to Lucian and the carrier in which Josephus [37-100] unsuccessfully attempted to make Rome must have been quite large; besides cargo, there were some 600 individuals on board. Luke’s record indicates that, all told, 276 individuals were aboard the first grain carrier on which Paul travelled (Acts 27:37). Moreover, Luke’s reference at Acts 27:30 to the conspiracy of the sailors (οἱ ναυται) to abandon ship using the lifeboat (σκαφή) would seem to imply a smaller crew. Far from being troublesomely large, the numerical indications may actually show Paul’s ship to have been an Alexandrian carrier of significantly less than Isis class tonnage. The crew (3rd person plural of ποιέω: Acts 27:18) would first have lightened the ship by jettisoning the topmost cargo (possibly located above decks?) earlier during the storm. The urgent labors of all those aboard (3rd person plural of κουφίζω after mention of the 276: Acts 27:38) in the pre-dawn hours of the morning of the shipwreck might reasonably be thought to have significantly lightened such a smaller grain carrier before its run for shore. (David W. J. Gill [b. 1946] and Conrad Gempf [b. 1955], “Acts, Travel and Shipwreck”, The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting, 32-33)
Some have sought significance in the number 276 and its properties. This marks the only occurrence of this highly precise number in the Bible. It is, however, one of four triangular numbers referenced.

F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) catalogs:

No significance need be seen in the fact that 276 is a triangular number (the sum of all whole numbers from 1 through 23), like 120 in Acts 1:15; 153 in John 21:11; 666 in Revelation 13:18. (Bruce, The Book of the Acts (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 493)
C.K. Barrett (1917-2011) notices:
A surprising number of commentators repeat the statement that 276 is the sum of the digits from 1 to 24. It is not; it is the sum of the digits from 1 to 23. (Barrett, Acts 15-28 (International Critical Commentary, 1210-11)
For example, Gerhard A. Krodel (1926-2005) miscalculates:
The number 276 is a triangular number, the sum of all numbers from 1 to 24, and as such as [sic] mysterious and perfect number. (Krodel, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament, 478)
Mikeal C. Parsons (b. 1957) gleans:
The specific number may have been added to give verisimilitude to the account (although the scribal tendency to give a round number [270, 275] or approximate [about 76 or about 70] number destroys that effect if intended), which claims to be that of an eyewitness (cf. François Bovon [b. 1938] 1985). If any symbolism is to be attached to 276 it is probably to be found in the fact that 276 is a “triangular number,” the sum of the numbers 1 through 23; and here the significance is that 23 is not 24 (a similar phenomenon has been noted about the “seven sayings from the cross”; cf. Jason Whitlark [b. 1975] and Mikeal C. Parsons [b. 1957] 2006). In Luke’s logic, 24, as a multiple of 12, represents the church (a common later view; cf. Tyconius [370-390], Commentarium in Apocalypsim 4.4), and 23 does not. Thus the 276 gathered on the boat with Paul do not represent the church, and the meal Paul shares with them is not the Eucharist, because 23 is not 24 (for more on this possible symbolism, see Parsons 2008). (Parsons, Acts (Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament), 358)
Despite the irregularity of the number, the reversion to the first person “us” is more telling (Acts 27:37). Luke Timothy Johnson (b. 1943) instructs:
Notice the shift to the “we” again in this verse—which may also help account for the Western addition in Acts 27:36—the first since Acts 27:27. (Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles (Sacra Pagina), 455)
The voice noticeably returns to the third person in the following verse (Acts 27:38). David G. Peterson (b. 1944) tracks:
The first person plural (we) in Acts 27:27 changes to the third person plural they in Acts 27:28-44, with a brief reference to us in Acts 27:37 (ēmetha, ‘we were’, as in most English versions). This gives the impression that Paul’s ministry of encouragement was essentially to the unbelieving soldiers and sailors who were in charge of the situation. Paul inspired them to act decisively and courageously for the benefit of all. (Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 694)
This usage of the first person is irregular as it is typically reserved for Christians and the majority aboard the ship are unbelievers. Robert C. Tannehill (b. 1934) observes:
Acts 27:37 indicates, “All the lives in the ship, we were two hundred seventy-six.” The “we” in the voyage to Rome generally refers to a small group of Christians. Here, however, the entire ship’s company becomes a single “we” as the narrator numbers the company so that readers will know what “all” means [Acts 27:36]. Even though the boundary of the church is not completely eliminated, the meal on the ship is an act that benefits all, Christian and non-Christian, and an act in which community is created across religious lines. (Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation, Volume 2: The Acts of the Apostles, 335)
Some have speculated that the 276 are not only saved from the temporary wreckage but also recipients of eternal redemption. Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) rejects:
Especially unconvincing are the arguments of Petr Pokorný [b. 1933], “Die Romfahrt des Paulus und der antike Roman,” that Luke means us to think that all 276 received eternal salvation. (Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary, 773)
Here, the “we” previously reserved for Christians takes on a wider scope (Acts 27:37). William S. Kurz (b. 1939) comments:
The inclusive use of the first person indicates Luke’s feeling of solidarity not only with Paul but also with all on the ship, who together were undergoing the same dramatic trials. (Kurz, Acts of the Apostles (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture), 371-72)
In the face of a life or death situation, the hierarchical ordering of the 276 souls disappears. Reta Halteman Finger (b. 1940) assesses:
The ship’s passengers in Acts 27:1-44, who come from various social strata (including prisoners), have become one group whose lives are saved or lost together. They experience social reversal as one who has been in chains among them takes the lead in hosting a meal and urging commensality. By eating together they ensure that not a single one of them will be lost from the group of 276. (Finger, Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts, 240)
The camaraderie among the passengers on Paul’s vessel is as improbable as naive Gilligan befriending the erudite professor, Roy Hinkley, or the movie star, Ginger Grant, palling around with the unrefined skipper, Jonas Grant, after the shipwreck of the S.S. Minnow on an unchartered desert isle on “Gilligan’s Island” (1964-1967).

This unity may be evidence of a phenomenon psychologists label “shared coping” in which those enduring crisis experience a bond. Hans-Josef Klauck (b. 1946) discusses:

Paul encourages his companions by telling them about this heavenly assurance. His first words are: ‘An angel of the God to whom I belong...’ (Acts 27:23). The fact that the majority of the two hundred and seventy-six persons on board (Acts 27:37) are Gentiles makes it necessary to specify this; the story is related from the perspective of the Christian ‘we’-group, who accompany Paul, but these were few in number (cf. the mention of Aristarchus in Acts 27:2). When the total number is given in Acts 27:37, however, this ‘we’ becomes what Karl Löning [b. 1938] has called a ‘we of the community in trouble’: ‘We were in all two hundred and seventy-six persons in the ship.’ No one is allowed to break out of this fellowship, neither the crew, who plan to escape by stealth (Acts 27:30-32), nor the soldiers, who are tempted to take desperate action (Acts 27:42). The rescue will succeed only if all stay together. (Klauck, Magic and Paganism in Early Christianity: The World of the Acts of the Apostles, 112),
There are 276 souls aboard the ship (Acts 27:37). When the vessel sets sail there are various divisions: crew/passengers, free/imprisoned and many other usses and thems. When calamity strikes all 276 become one. They are a single “us”. They are in the same boat.

What shipwrecks are you familiar with? How do you envision the events of Acts 27:1-44? Why does Acts include the precise number of passengers; what does it add to the story? In these trying circumstances, who took the time to complete a headcount? Would the 276 souls on board have helped or hurt in such unfavorable conditions; would they add stabilizing weight? What most bonds you with others? When have you found yourself in the same boat with a surprising co-passenger? Have you ever bonded with another person during a tragedy; a stranger? Do you feel unified with your fellow believers? When has a clearly defined “us and them” become simply an “us”?

The shipwreck in Acts 27:14-44 is first and foremost a miracle story. It is nothing short of miraculous that all 276 passengers are accounted for: there are no casualties.

Richard I. Pervo (b. 1942) classifies:

At that point [Acts 27:37] Luke enumerates the company: 276 in all. Such numbers normally appear as an element of miracle stories, as in the feeding of the 5,000 (Luke 9:14). Acts 27 is a miracle story. (Pervo, The Mystery of Acts: Unraveling Its Story, 111)
David J. Williams (1933-2008) researches:
Luke may have mentioned the number at this juncture because the distribution of rations had brought it to his attention. But it also underlines the marvel that they were all saved. In Josephus [37-100]’s case only eighty of the six hundred survived. (Williams, Acts (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series), 439)
Some have cited the totality of the rescue as evidence of the prisoner Paul’s innocense. Brian M. Rapske (b. 1952) refutes:
Gary B. Miles [b. 1940] and Garry Trompf [b. 1940] argue that the escape of all 276 passengers amounts to a ‘divine confirmation of Paul’s innocense’. Troublesome to their argument, however, is the fact that while there is no loss of life, there is a disaster; the ship on which Paul is a passenger and its cargo are completely destroyed. David Ladoucer [b. 1948] suggests that Paul’s safe passage under the sign of the Dioskouroi (Acts 28:11), the guardians of truth and punishers of perjurers, may well be ‘one more argument in a sequence calculated to persuade the reader of Paul’s innocence’. The relationship of the Dioskouroi to the Imperial cult may, Ladoucer argues, render the need for a narrative of the trial’s outcome superfluous. (David W. J. Gill [b. 1946] and Conrad Gempf [b. 1955], “Acts, Travel and Shipwreck”, The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting, 43-44)
It is clear that the miracle is facilitated by Paul who takes charge of the situation (Acts 27:9-10, 21-26, 33-36). James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) speculates:
I do not think the world has any awareness of how much it owes to the presence of Christians in its midst. Here were soldiers, sailors, prisoners—276 of them. All of them were spared because of Paul. Yet afterward, when it was over, I am sure that most of them went away and never thought of their deliverance again. They did not thank God. (Boice, Acts: An Expositional Commentary, 414)
Aboard the ship, Paul is just 1 of 276 souls (Acts 27:37). Yet his presence completely changes the situation. 276 became one and because of one 276 are saved. One Christian can make all the difference to the world.

What are some of the largest recorded wrecks with no casualties? What would have happened to the ship had Paul not been aboard? Would all have perished? How much of an effect do you believe that Christian prayer and presence has upon world history? When has one person made a difference to a large group?

“You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, perhaps just one, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.” - John Piper (b. 1946), Don’t Waste Your Life, p. 44