[B-Greek] Luke 19:31

George F Somsel gfsomsel at yahoo.com
Sat Nov 18 06:45:55 EST 2006


When we read these accounts, we really must try to understand them as the original readers might have understood them.  Today people sometimes hand out tracts containing the Gospel according to John.  Some have never read the Bible in their lives (hard to believe, isn't it?).  Imagine that you were in that situation and someone handed you a Gospel according to Luke, and you're now reading it for the first time.  You know nothing about the Gospel according to John.  The only Lazarus mentioned in Luke is the beggar who sat at the rich man's gate.  Mary and Martha are mentioned (Lk 10), but where they live is not -- it's merely KWMH TINA.  In our passage Bethany and Bethphage are indeed mentioned, but when Jesus tells the disciples to go get the ass he doesn't say "Go to Bethphage" but THN KATENANTI KWMHN so put away your maps.  I'm inclined to say that it was not Bethphage or it would have been stated. 

I'm not trying, in a once fashionable manner, to explain everything naturalistically (such as to say that when Jesus was walking on the water he was really stepping on some stones).  When Luke introduces a miracle story, he generally signals that this is such as in the case of the healing of the blind man where everyone "gives thanks to God" afterward.  When he wants you to know that Jesus has some special knowledge, he also signals that by saying something like "he knew what was in their hearts."  We don't have that here.  What we do have appears to be a very natural type of story.  It seems that Luke is putting his hand over his mouth in trying to suppress a laugh as he tells a story of misunderstanding (It reminds me a bit of Til Eulenspiegels Lustige Spiel).  The OT in particular is full of plays on words.  Jacob makes some [red] lentil soup which his brother Esau wants because he's famished so he sells his birthright for this "mess of pottage" and gets the name "Red." 
 Amos sees a basket of summer fruit and proclaims that the end has come for Israel.  In English this doesn't seem to follow, but in Hebrew the two words are similar.  Imagine that "summer fruit" was called "termination" and Amos then pronounces that Israel is terminated -- this is the kind of play that is going on.  We take these books to be holy scripture and feel that we need to wear our best clothes and wash our hands and sit up straight with a very serious expression on our faces when we read it.  NOT SO!!  The essence of a word-play is that afterwards you sit there and scratch your head and say "I hadn't thought of that possibility."  Sometimes in English there are writers who don't do a very good job and leave ambiguities.  I was reading an article on Dell Computers the other day where it spoke of "the bathroom where Michael Dell hid the parts which he used to make computers from his parents" [this is a near-quote, not an exact quote since I do not claim to have a
 photographic memory].  I had to laugh since it appears that the writer is saying that Dell made computers from his parents.  Do I think that is the case?  Of course not.  

So also, we know that "of him [it]" in our passage refers to the ass, but it could conceivably refer to the owner of the animal and to the village elders.  I seriously doubt that the villagers recognized the disciples as you suppose.  In fact, the story almost presupposes that they DON'T know them.  This was something like a "Neighborhood Watch."  They see someone they don't recognize unteathering an ass so they ask them what they're up to.  It's not Joe from 1/4 mile down the road who is a good friend of Frank, who owns the animal.  I was living in the Pasadena, CA area some years ago when I got off work and was walking up to the Glendale Mall dressed in my suit and carrying an attache case when I saw this creature in a flouncy dress and broadbrimed hat walking down the steps to the street level and then walk over to a lamp post to which a bicycle was chained and start to rattle the chain.  I thought this rather strange so I said, "Pardon me, is that yours?"  The reply
 came back in a deep voice "Watch out or I'll coldcock you!"  I put down my attache case and said, "You're welcome to try" but then he stooped down and unlocked the lock at which point I concluded that it was his bike and dropped the matter.  This is the way it works.  When someone sees something unusual they ask questions.

People today are amused when they see something in which an unusual cleverness is exhibited.  They also appreciated it back then.  Remember the movie [Senior moment here and I'm only 39!], was it "The Sting"?  It stared Newman and concerned a setup in which some pool sharks were going to part a guy of some money.  Normally we don't think of theft as in any way admirable, but this wasn't a case of meeting someone in a dark alley, hitting him over the head, and riffling his pockets.  It was clever so we appreciate it.  I'm wondering if Luke isn't signalling that Jesus was very clever here.  Remember, SMILE, God loves you.

----- Original Message ----
From: Iver Larsen <iver_larsen at sil.org>
To: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
Sent: Saturday, November 18, 2006 3:13:38 AM
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Luke 19:31

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "George F Somsel" <gfsomsel at yahoo.com>
> What I am exploring here is the reason for the statement "hO KURIOS AUTOU XREIAN EXEI."  This 
> would seem to presuppose that anyone who asked would be aware of to whom "hO KURIOS" refers and 
> would have no objection to Jesus' use of the animal.  The problem is that we are not told that 
> this is the case.  While there is generally an economy of expression in the gospels in particular, 
> they do generally contain all of the information which we need to understand them.

IL: The economy of expression is common to all communication (confer Relevance Theory), and the 
gospels generally have less of this than many other texts. On the other hand, one needs to have some 
background information of the situation to understand. It is helpful to know that Jesus and his 
disciples were approaching both Bethany and Bethphage at this point in the story. Bethany is about 
one mile off the main road to the left as they were coming up the Jericho road. To go to Bethany now 
would be a detour, but Jesus has been there several times and is well-known in the village. He used 
to stay at the spacious home of the well-to-do Martha who must have been known by everyone there. A 
number of people in that village would know him as "the Master" (hO KURIOS or the Hebrew/Aramaic 
equivalent) - and Luke commonly refers to Jesus as "hO KURIOS". Bethphage has not been located with 
absolute certainty, but it is likely that it was on or very near the main road about 1½ mile east of 
Jerusalem. So, looking at the map in front of me, it is likely that Jesus stopped  about 3 miles 
before Jerusalem and sent two of his disciples southwest along the path to Bethany to get the donkey 
and asked them to return with it along the path going northwest to Bethpage. At the meantime he and 
the others would procede on the main road towards the west and a bit south to go to Bethphage and 
wait for them there before descending the hill towards Jerusalem.

> If, however, the statement is somewhat ambiguous so that it could refer to either Jesus as hO 
> KURIOS or to the owner of the animal, then the answer might be understandable as being sufficient. 
> I feel very uncomfortable ASSUMING that Jesus had some prior contact with the people of this 
> village and was known to them.  Furthermore, the simple designation as hO KURIOS is not in itself 
> identifying if it does not refer to the owner of the animal since it was a common form of address.

IL: I don't know why you feel uncomfortable with an assumption that is well founded in the Gospel 
narratives. Jesus knew exactly who the people were who would be asking and what they would say. So, 
Luke bends over backwards to explain who the owners of the donkey(s) were, because he is more 
specific than Mark when he says in v. 33-34:


Now, since Luke identifies the bystanders as the owners of the donkey, it makes no sense for them or 
us to understand hO KURIOS as the owner of the donkey. They must have understood that hO KURIOS 
referred to Jesus, and that is why they let them take the donkey. They probably recognized the two 
disciples of Jesus anyway, since they had been seen in the company of Jesus several times in 
Bethany. They don't ask the two disciples who they are, but only why they are taking the donkey. And 
Jesus presumably returned the donkeys the same evening, when he went to Bethany to stay overnight 
with his friends. He might even have gone to the owners and said thank you for lending them to me. 
Or he could have sent them back earlier with the two disciples. We don't need to know all the 
details, but there is no doubt that hO KURIOS refers to Jesus.

Iver Larsen 

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