Barry Newman's Blog

December 21, 2012

The Parable of the Tenants (part VI)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 10:24 pm

The Old Testament allusion

Kistemaker believes that as Jesus began his parable, the chief priests, Pharisees and scribes would have quickly realised that he was alluding to a prophetic passage from Isaiah.

In the LXX, Isaiah 5: 1, 2a reads: “Now I will sing a song about my beloved, to the beloved, about my vineyard. The beloved had a vineyard on a ridge in a fertile place. And I put a fence around it and entrenched it and planted a quality vine and built a tower in the midst of it and dug a winepress place.”  The text goes on to speak of God’s abandonment of the vineyard, identified as the house of Israel, because the vine, identified as the men of Judah, “produced thorns rather than grapes”.

In Luke’s Gospel any connection between the beginning of this parable and the parable that Jesus told would not have been all that obvious to his readers, even if they were familiar with the LXX.  Luke mentions a vineyard but that is the only similarity.  Presumably, writing largely for a Gentile audience, Luke was under no pressure to make a connection between the parable and the Old Testament at this point.

Unlike the situation with Luke’s Gospel the similarities between the parable of Isaiah and the beginning of the parable that Jesus told, as recorded in Matthew and Mark, are considerable. Each refers to a vineyard, the putting of a fence around it and the building of a tower, with Mark referring to digging a pit for a wine press, and Matthew digging a wine press in it.  However in neither case is there a direct quotation, at this point, from the LXX; the syntax is generally different anyway. Yet the resemblances are obvious.  Of course, Jesus almost certainly told the parable in Aramaic. To what extent anyone listening to the parable connected it with the Isaiah text, or if they did so, when they did so, is problematic. The Isaiah parable has God owning the vineyard and establishing it.  The text may even suggest that the place for the vineyard was there to begin with, that place having been assigned to the house of Israel. The parable that Jesus told, to begin with, simply tells of a man who planted a vineyard, describing how he established it.  In spite of the differences between the beginning of the parable that Jesus told, as recorded in Matthew and Mark, and the one in Isaiah, it is difficult to believe that no one listening to Jesus saw any connection between the parables, even as Jesus just began to tell his parable.

With respect to Matthew, with a Jewish readership familiar with the LXX, it might have been important for him for the connection to be reasonably obvious.  If there had been an Aramaic version of Matthew’s Gospel, what was recorded there may have been fairly similar to what Jesus originally said.  For Mark it may simply have been a matter of his recording the parable, in Greek, in a way that brought it into close conformity with the original Aramaic version as spoken by Jesus.

All these speculations are not meant to write off any interdependency between the three gospels or dependency by any of them on any other source. For those who listened to the parable, as it unfolded, perhaps it was a matter of “those having ears to hear, let them hear”!

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