Sunday, February 15, 2015

Zechariah the son of Barachiah, Some Textual Criticism, a Prophecy, and the Old Testament Canon

In the middle of a discussion regarding with a Roman Catholic about the extent of the canon, I had referenced that Jesus' mention of all blood of the prophets from Abel to Zechariah showed that Jesus believed the Old Testament canon was the traditional Jewish canon. The canon wasn't in flux and it did not include the Apocrypha.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Matthew 23:29-36

To this, I got the following reply.

//The Zechariah that was murdered in the temple is Zechariah, son of Berechiah (Matthew 23:35). But the Zechariah that you try and use to close to canon was not murdered at the alter, but stoned in the court, NOT between the Alters. Not to mention the Zechariah that was stoned was Zechariah the son of Jehoiada.....//

Actually, there is no witness outside of this to say that Zechariah ben Berechiah was murdered in the Temple, although that is a solution some have proposed. A number of Jewish anti-missionaries have picked up on this reference and have claimed this is an example of where the New Testament has erred. However, I think as I explain a few things we will see this is a reference to Zechariah ben Jehoiada.

One other explanation have offered is that this is a textual error that has crept into Matthew's text. There is some evidence for this. Some Greek manuscripts reference "Zechariah ben Jehoiada" instead, but this is a minority reading. Jerome references the Nazarenes had a Hebrew text of Matthew that read "Jehoiada". A later Hebrew writing of Matthew, Shem Tob, reads something like "Zechariah etc.". If this preserves an earlier reading it could mean the "etc." was later filled out by scribes. Not that I am a textual critical expert, but I think the majority reading is correct, but at the same time the minority reading may shed some light on why the person in question in the text of Matthew is Zechariah ben Jehoiada of 2 Chronicles.

The context and description in Matthew matches what we know of Zechariah ben Jehoiada. 1) murdered by Jews 2) occurred in the court of the Temple (according to the Palestinian Talmud in the priestly court which would make sense since ben Jehoiada was a priest, and not in one of the less holy courts). 3) linked with Abel because the blood is crying out (2 Chron. 24:22)

As it was written down in the Talmuds, the Midrashim, and the Targums the death of Zechariah ben Jehoiada held a firm hold on the national conscience. According to the Palestinian Talmud this happened on a sabbath on the Day of Atonement besides being in the priestly court, so that would make sense. The Babylonian Talmud has Zechariah ben Jehoiada being avenged by Nebuchanezzar. Now this would be even greater evidence that Zechariah ben Jehoiada is referenced because in Matthew 23 Jesus says all of the blood of the prophets will fall on this generation. And we know in roughly 40 years the Temple was also destroyed by the Romans. I would say this is prophecy of the Temple's destruction, given the parallel and the destruction of the Temple that is predicted elsewhere in the gospels.

Alright, so why would Matthew write "ben Berechiah"?

I'm going to quote from one of my sources. "In rabbinical haggadah different characters from Scripture who are linked by a similarity of name or of other characteristics are often said to be the same person." "Adopted as one of their methods that of calling different personages by one and the same name if they found them akin in any feature of their characters or activities or if they found a similarity between any of their actions."

This practice can be found in the Haggadic Midrashim, Babylonian Talmud, and back to the Jerusalem Talmud, Halakic Midrashim, and to the Mishnah. You can even see the practice in non rabbinical works like pseudo-Philo. Or in the second book of Esdras. Older still, you can see the practice in the tile prefix to Psalm 34. Ashish king of the Philistines (1 Sam. 21:10-22:1) is referenced as Abimelech the Philistine king (Gen. 20-21, 26). This might also explain why Jesus says "Abiathar" instead of "Ahimelech" in Mark 2:26.

The Targum on Lamentations 2:20 also talks about killing Zechariah ben Iddo in the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. "ben Iddo" is coming from Zechariah 1:1. But the details follow the traditions for Zechariah ben Jehoiada that I referenced earlier. So this Targum shows the conflation of Zechariah ben Berechiah with Zechariah ben Jehoiada in terms of name usage, just like Jesus did.

So even after all of this, if you don't want this to be a reference to the scope of the canon, you have two more problems. The last prophet murdered before Jesus was John the Baptist. If you ignore and bypass John the Baptist, the last chronologically from the canon would be Uriah ben Shemaiah. (Jeremiah 26:20-23)

I used Roger Beckwith's "the Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church" and Dr. Michael Brown's "Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus volume 4" if you would like to read more on this topic.

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