Matthew 23:35 & Josephus on the Palestinian canon of the Old Testament

Question: This is a question on the use of Matthew and Josephus to support only the Palestinian canon of the OT. If someone uses Mt. 23:35-“from Abel to Zecheriah” to support the idea that Jesus only recognized the Palestinian canon, what does this passage really mean in relationship to the OT canon. In other words, Maccabees came after Zech., so it wasn’t recognized by Jesus? Something sounds very fishy about this and I need your analysis of it. He also quotes Josephus Contra Apion 1.38 to the same end. Thanks for your great help!

Answer:

This is an old canard. The murders “from Abel to Zechariah” are not in historical order. Zechariah is not the last person killed chronologically in the OT. Jesus is referring to the Pharisaic way of collecting the books of Scripture with Genesis first and 2 Chronicles last. This is the classical Tanach order — TNK: Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), Ketubim (Writings). Jesus’ use of this argument from the order of the Tanach does not limit the Canon of the Scripture. He is doing the same thing here with the Pharisees that he did in Matt 22-

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, `If a man dies, having no children, his brother must marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, to which of the seven will she be wife? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, `I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sad’ducees, they came together. (Matthew 22:23-34)

The Sadducees did not accept the authority of anything except the first five books of Moses in the Torah. In the Torah there is no explicit reference to the resurrection. The clearest such reference is in Ezekiel 37:

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done it, says the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:12-14)

The quote in verse 32 is from Exodus 3:6 in the Torah. Jesus is going to the biiks that the Sadducees accepted to show them that there is a life after death. He is not endorsing their view of the Canon but “hoisting them with their own petard.” He is doing the same thing in the very next chapter (Matthew 23) to the Pharisees.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous… (Matthew 23:29)

Jesus is telling them that in their own version of the Bible, there is murder of the righteous by the unrighteous from start to finish. Jesus is not endorsing their Canon. He is using it to condemn them as it were “out of their own mouths.” It should be noted that several modern studies of the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matthew/Luke) have shown that in these narratives, Jesus is alluding to the deuterocanonical wisdom literature quite extensively. Among the books heavily used by Christ in this teaching are Sirach, Wisdom, and Tobit. For reference I would recommend the books “James and the Q Sayings of Jesus” by Hartin and “Jesus the Sage” by Ben Wittherington III. (N.B.- Both are Protestant authors.)

Art Sippo
The Catholic Legate

June 11, 2003

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