Re: Syn. Apoc. (Parable of the Fig Tree)

From: Larry Swain (
Date: Wed Sep 06 1995 - 01:48:38 EDT

On Tue, 5 Sep 1995, Carl W. Conrad wrote:

> It's worth noting that Matthew has redacted Mark's narrative by reuniting
> the two halves (Mt 21:18-22) and making it independent of the Cleansing of
> the Temple. Matthew tells the story as a real historical incident. Of
> course it is possible that the story was at one time a unit and that
> Matthew renders it in accordance with the oral tradition, while Mark has
> deliberately split it and given it a symbolic dimension. Luke, who is
> generally much more careful to report only what he apparently feels has
> verisimilitude (he makes the real Sanhedrin trial of Jesus take place at
> dawn rather than in the middle of the night, for instance), has omitted the
> story of the cursing and withering of the fig tree altogether.

I appreciated the way in which you interpreted and laid out the fig tree
in Mark. I however must disagree with you that Matthew's version of the
story is reported as "historical" in contrast to Mark's "symbolism". I
am not saying that Matthew does not view this as historical, nor am I
addressing the issue of redaction. I want to make those clear before I
go on.

Matthew begins with the triumphal entry and all that it portends.
He enters the city, and we have the city being stirred at his arrival
perhaps paralleling chap 2.3-where news of the birth of the anointed
causes the city to be stirred. The multitudes reply, OUTOS ESTIN HO
PROPHETES IESOUS.... This whole passage in Matthew is the question of
who Jesus is, and the first identification of him iss as King, as He who
comes in the Name of the Lord, as Prophet. Matthew picks up the story,
Jesus enters the city and comes to the Temple and EKSEBALEN-I think it
interesting that the word here is the same verb repeatedly used to
describe the EKBALEIN of demons, although it is of course used in other
contexts as well. Note the next thing: TUPHLOI KAI XWLOI come to him
and are healed. A) God in strength comes to His temple, perhaps another
reference to Malachi 3.1-2-comes as refiner. THen again Is. 61.1ff-the
making whole of the outcast so that they are not outside the Temple any
longer-note that this does not happen outside the Temple, but within it.
Mark doesn't have this. Next we have the proclamation of the children
echoing v. 9: again children citing the Psalm within the Temple, where
they did not belong either. Again the outcast is welcomed into the
Temple where God is. All are included until the next verse when the
high priests and scribes come: IDOUNTES TA THAUMASIA HA EPOIHSEN KAI
TOUS PAIDAS TOUS KRAZONTAS, they do not object to the
casting out" of the moneychangers, nor do they object to the miracles,
but rather the children's proclamation of Jesus as Son of David, another
title of who Jesus is is added. But with their objection here they
remove themselves from the blessings Jesus brings. Now we come to the crux.

Jesus sees SUKHN MIAN-Why mention that it is a lone fig tree? Mark
doesn't, leaving it anarthrous and without the MIAN. This is another
instance of a difference that is interesting though I don't know quite
what to make of it, but it is striking particularly if we assume the 2
Source Hypothesis: if Matthew is copying Mark, why does he add the
MIAN? It seems to me to draw attention to a contrast. The focus of
this section is all about the Kingdom, which the Passion and
Resurrection are the denouement of, the end of the fig tree episode is a
discussion of having faith, and of forgiving so that God may forgive, in
other words the same message of the healing in the Temple-that the
Kingdom brings wholeness-forgiveness of sins, faith to move mountains,
etc. If the fig tree has a referent, I would think that the contrast
here established is not between Temple and Church, but rather the
ARXIEREIS KAI HOI GRAMMATEIS in contrast to the Church.

The reason I think that is we have these characters questioning Jesus'
authority and who he is understood to be within the Temple preceeding the
episode, and then again immediately after, when Jesus is teaching in the
Temple, these same people again question his authority. Given that, the
contrast seems to me to be between groups of people within Judaism (from
their perspective, not ours), rather than the Temple itself.
All of that to say that Matthew's recounting of the tale is as rife with
symbolism as Mark's in my opinion.

Larry Swain
Parmly Billings Library

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