Mt 17:1-9 1And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun... 9And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one the vision, until the son of man is raised from the dead."
TJ [No cognate]
THE PROBLEMS. Beare (pp. 361-365) supplied several reasons why this mountain-top scene, where Moses and Elijah appear and speak to a transfigured Jesus, must be an invention of the evangelist. Many other scholars concur. Here is a summary of some of Beare's objections:
(a) The scene takes place at an unnamed mountain; in a real event of this importance the mountainóa high mountainówould have been named. Although the traditional site for this is Mt. Tabor, it is much too far away from the area of Caesarea Philippi, where Matthew last places Jesus, to be viable.
(b) The phrase "after six days" in its introductory verse has no definite point of reference. It is very likely that it was utilized as an analogy to the Exodus account of Moses having spent six days on Mount Sinai before the LORD spoke to him from out of a mountain-capping cloud (Ex 24:16).
(c) Similarly, the description that Jesus' "face shone like the sun" echoes Ex 34:29, in which the skin of Moses's face shone.
(d) Peter's offer to construct three booths: for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, was nonsensical, considering that the transfigured personages would not need any such shelter, or that it would have required too much time, or that suitable branches may not have been available. Beare pointed out that such shelters were built for the Jewish annual feast of Booths in which worshipers were to reside. In this story the idea of a booth seems to have been drawn from the "tent of meeting" of Ex 40.
(e) In Mt 17:5 it is stated, "a bright cloud overshadowed them." This also lacks sense because to produce a dark shadow, a cloud needs a dark underside; a bright cloud instead reflects additional light and so does not "overshadow" anything. Beare pointed out that the description here reflects the language of Ex 40:34-35 in which the cloud exuding God's glory covered the tent of meeting.
(f) The voice that speaks out of the cloud merely repeats what the similar voice said at the baptism (Mt 3:17). The purpose of this doublet was evidently to reinforce what was written just 16 verses earlier, that Jesus was the "Son of the living God." Furthermore, this voice failed to let Peter, James and John know to whom "This is my beloved son" referred toto Moses, to Elijah or to Jesusas Jesus was not known as the Son of God until after Paul wrote of him in this manner a decade or more after the crucifixion.
(g) In Mt 17:6 the three disciples are said to have fallen prostrate with fear upon hearing the voice speaking out of the cloud. However, their fear would surely have evinced itself a few minutes earlier when Jesus was transfigured and when Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The latter two are somehow immediately recognized by Peter, James and John even though they had been dead for many centuries and Jesus does not introduce them.
SOLUTION. Neither this passage nor any of Matthew's chapter 17 is contained within the TJ. From its perspective we surmise that the compiler invented and inserted the transfiguration story, for one reason, to leave no doubt that Jesus was to be considered an even greater religious figure than Moses or Elijah, his two favorite Old Testament personages. This he would have done for the purpose of convincing Jews to accept Jesus as worthy of being the long awaited Messiah. For another reason, it would indicate that Elijah, who had been "translated into heaven" long before, was still around, so that "he is Elijah who is to come" of Mt 11:14 would refer to this event and not to any possible reincarnation. The third reason, already mentioned, was so that Jesus would be confirmed as "the Son of the living God." The attention of the writer of Matthew was evidently so focused upon implementing these three goals that he overlooked the non-credible aspects of his invented story, whose elements were extracted from Exodus.
With regard to the hoax hypothesis, a literary hoaxer is not as likely to find this pericope to be valueless (and so to omit it from his construction) as scholars like Beare are to find it to be non-genuine. The mystical aspect of the pericope might well appeal to a New Age hoaxer almost as much as it appealed to the imagination of the writer of Matthew. PHoax ≈ 0.45.
TJ [No cognate]
THE PROBLEMS. It has been pointed out by Frank Zimmermann that this passage states an obvious contradiction. If Elijah was yet to come, then he cannot already have come, and vice versa. Here "does come" does imply a future coming, since the Greek from which it is derived is most properly rendered "is coming." If Elijah was considered to have already come in the form of John the Baptist, that then constituted his "coming." He could hardly come yet again since John's head (Elijah's head) had been cut off.
In Mt 17:10 "Then" is forced, since the question does not easily or logically flow out of Jesus' preceding admonition that the disciples tell no one of their vision. It appears the writer of Matthew wished to speak of Elijah here, and unsuccessfully tried to tie his coming discussion in with his preceding verse.
Another indication of redaction is that only after Jesus tells them that he, too (the Son of man), would have to suffer are they said to understand that he had been speaking of John the Baptist. If they had been that confused, his sudden switch from speaking about Elijah to speaking about himself would have left them even more confused, since bringing up the topic of his own forthcoming suffering would lead their thoughts away from Elijah or John the Baptist.
SOLUTION. Zimmermann's criticism does apply, since there is no reincarnation context present here, unlike the implication of Mt 11:14. However, it would seem that the compiler did have the "translation" hypothesis in mind here, wherein Elijah had not died but was carried up to heaven and so would return again in the same body. If so, however, the "translation" hypothesis would need to be amended to include the automatic restoration of truncated body parts, e.g., the head of John the Baptist.
What Elijah would supposedly do upon his return was known at the time from rabinnic writings. So it is not surprising that the thought "first Elijah must come" was included by the writer of Matthew, especially if he had once been a Pharisee and quite possibly a scribe. [PHoax ≈ 0.45.]
TJ [No cognate]
THE PROBLEM. Thus begins the episode of the healing of the epileptic. Here, Beare (p. 368) felt that the presence of a crowd in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi is quite inexplicable, as Jesus with Peter, James and John had supposedly just been to a "high mountain apart."
SOLUTION. The reason for the presence of this crowd is indeed unexplained, except as being an oversight of the redactor. The crowds mentioned in other more genuine Matthean text having TJ cognates developed because of Jmmanuel's prior presence. [PHoax ≈ 0.4.]
TJ [No cognate]
THE PROBLEM. Beare (p. 369) noted that in verse 17 Jesus' words do not form a reply to the father who had just asked his mercy upon his son, the epileptic. Instead, Jesus' reply is addressed to the whole generation. Beare then wondered if we are to think of Jesus as being impatient with all of humanity.
SOLUTION. The illogic Beare detected here seems typical of what can occur when an editor who is often somewhat careless inserts a large amount of his own material. In contrast, the many healing stories in Matthew that the TJ supports as being basically genuine received a minimum of redaction from the compiler. Therefore they have appeared more genuine to scholars and have received less criticism from them, and hence receive little mention in this analysis of scholars' criticisms.
The problem noted by Beare is not at all well known, and may not have been anticipated by a literary hoaxer, who, on the other hand, would quite likely have been happy to include another healing miracle to Jmmanuel's credit. Hence the absence of this healing pericope in the TJ counts against the hoax hypothesis. PHoax ≈ 0.35.
TJ [No cognate]
THE PROBLEM. This verse seems to refer to a demon that the disciples could not cast out. It is omitted from most Bibles, as it does not appear in the more trusted Matthean papyri and manuscripts of the 3rd and 4th centuries, and so is relegated to a biblical footnote. However it is attested to by some rather impressive manuscripts, and therefore long ago gained a verse number within Matthew. Coming just after 17:20, which gives an explanation as to why the disciples could not cast out the demon, 17:21 gives an entirely different reason, which text thus doesn't seem to belong there. Beare (p. 367) affirmed that the verse does not belong where it is, but assumed it was a mistake by a later scribe (scribal assimilation), who is assumed to have picked the verse up from Mark and added it to Matthew.
SOLUTION. Since the entire pericope about the healing of the epileptic was a Matthean invention, verse 17:21 could not have appeared in the TJ. From the solution that the TJ permits us to deduce to the Synoptic Problem, a plausible explanation for this vagrant verse emerges. First, since Mark followed after Matthew and contains this verse, while not containing its alternative, Mt 17:20, we perceive that 17:21 had indeed been present in Matthew at the time Mark was written, while 17:20 had not. At that time Matthew was still in its Hebraic form. After Mark and Luke had been written, the Hebraic Matthew was translated into Greek. At this time, several improvements were made, one of them being the insertion of 17:20 to substitute for 17:21. In making this improvement, however, either the translator of Matthew or an assisting transcriber failed to remove 17:21. Hence both verses were left there together within a number of transcribed copies of Greek Matthew, before the error was later noticed and corrected by removing 17:21. Textual critics who would not be interested in the TJ might nevertheless consider giving more weight to those early manuscripts that contained 17:21.
Beare's assumption of scribal assimilation from Mark is quite implausible. What scribe or transcriptionist would have the audacity or ineptitude to add a verse from another gospel to the gospel he was working on and place it in a location where it makes no sense?
The absence of this verse from the TJ carries no weight one way or the other with respect to the hoax hypothesis. PHoax ≈ 0.5.
TJ [No cognate]
THE PROBLEMS. Here, Beare (pp. 369-370) pointed out that there had been no mention in previous verses of any scattering of the disciples, which would need to precede a gathering of the disciples; there has been no mention of a return from the north, no purpose for meeting in Galilee. So why then were they said to be gathering in Galilee? He also noted that this second prediction of the Passion was less definite than the first one in Mt 16:21; the lack of new information then suggests this passage is an insertion. And regarding the second of the two verses, he noted that the disciples showed grief at the thought of Jesus' coming death, but strangely this was not followed by relief or joy at the assurance of his resurrection.
SOLUTION. These problems with the Matthean text again demonstrate what may be expected within a chapter made up somewhat hastily by a redactor to substitute for a long, heretical section of his source document. This section of the TJ contains teachings about the human spirit, its evolution and its relationship to Creation, which follows naturally in the heels of Jmmanuel's censuring of Peter.
A more comprehensive assessment of the chance that the TJ could be a literary hoax would need to take into account the odds that a hoaxer could construct many informative and inspiring verses that the writer of Matthew would omit. Without doing this here, since it is mainly just those sections of the TJ possessing Matthean parallels that are being displayed, we assign PHoax ≈ 0.5 in this instance. That is, a hoaxer would not probably wish to once more repeat this prediction of the Passion.
TJ [No cognate]
THE PROBLEM. Beare (pp. 371-372) called this passage about paying the temple tax a "curious little story." He noted that the situation pictured in its first verse is artificial, while its prophecy of where to find the shekel must be regarded as folklore. Jesus was not present at the supposed event, yet when Peter reached "home" where Jesus was, Jesus started quizzing Peter about it before Peter could say a word.
SOLUTION. The TJ again agrees with Beare's conclusion. Beare discussed why the writer of Matthew had constructed this story: although gentiles would not need to pay the temple tax, Christians who were converted from Judaism would be uncertain. The pericope suggests that the writer recommended they pay it, if only to prevent giving offense to other Jews who were obligated to pay it.
The writer of Matthew may have thought of this theme for his story from the fairy tale known centuries earlier that Herodotus wrote (in Herodotus' Histories, book 3), involving Polycrates' ring. King Polycrates had tossed his valuable gold ring into the sea, and several days later it was recovered in the maw of a fish by a fisherman, who returned it to the king.
Again, a hoaxer would likely realize that this pericope was an invention of the compiler of Matthew, and hence not reproduce it. PHoax ≈ 0.5.
The overall probability favoring the TJ being a hoax from the accumulation of the above sub-probabilities within Mt 17 is 0.3.
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1. Zimmermann, Frank, The Aramaic Origins of the Four Gospels (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1979), p. 72.
2. Lowe, Malcolm and Flusser, David, "Evidence corroborating a modified Proto-Matthean Synoptic theory," NTS 29 (1983), pp. 25-47; see p. 35 and F.N. 58. The rabinnic passages occur in Eduyyot 8:7 and towards the end of Tosephta Eduyyot.