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The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen: A Test of Synoptic Relationships


The unfreezing of the Synoptic problem in recent years, for which we must be particularly grateful to Professor W. R. Farmer's survey, has been a healthy, if painful, experience. It is far too early yet to predict what new patterns, or modifications to previous patterns, will establish themselves. It is a time for rigorous testing out of suggestions that have disturbed, if not shaken, the critical consensus. What follows is but a small sample dip into the mass of material that needs to be looked at afresh. The passage selected – what is commonly known as the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen – merits attention for several reasons. It is as securely grounded in the tradition of Jesus's life and teaching as any other. It is among those listed by Farmer where the verbal agreement between the three Synoptists is so greatas to make some theory of literary interrelationship inescapable. It has the advantage now of a ‘fourth dimension’ in a close but in all probability independent parallel in the Gospel of Thomas. Yet, rather surprisingly, it is not discussed by Farmer either in his new ‘redaction ofthe Synoptic tradition in Mark’, though he analyses at length the incidents on either side of it, or in his survey of the parables as important historical evidence for the manhood of Jesus. So, despite the many previous treatments it has received, it may be justifiable to look at it once again for what light it may shed on the elusive solution to the oldest problem confronting Gospel critics.

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page 443 note 1 The Synoptic Problem (New York and London, 1964). I am personally grateful to him too for unpublished material and for the trouble he has taken incorrespondence.

page 443 note 2 For a comparable study, cfWenham D., ‘The Synoptic Problem Revisited: Some New Suggestions about the Composition of Mark iv. 1–34’, Tyndale Bulletin XXIII (1972), 338.

page 443 note 3 For a truer title, see below, p. 450.

page 443 note 4 Op. Cit. p. 208.

page 443 note 5 Op. cit. pp. 257–64.

page 443 note 6 ‘An historical essay on the humanity of Jesus Christ’ in Farmer W. R., Moule C. F. D. and Niebuhr R. R. (eds.), Christian History and Interpretation: Studies Presented to John Knox (Cambridge, 1967), PP. 101–26.

page 443 note 7 I use the enumeration and the translation of this last in Hennecke E., New Testament Apocrypha, I (E.T. London, 1963), 518.

page 444 note 1 Dodd C. H., The Parables of the Kingdom (London, 1935).

page 444 note 2 Jeremias J., The Parables of Jesus (E.T. London, 11954; 3 1972). References are to the latter revised edition (German 81970), unless indicated.

page 444 note 3 Cf. my article ‘The Parable of the Shepherd (John x. 1–5)’ reprinted in Twelve New Testament Studies (London, 1962), pp. 6775. Contrast the responses ἔγνωσαν (Mark xii. 12) and οὐκ ἔγνωσαν (John x. 6).

page 444 note 4 Op. cit. p. 76.

page 444 note 5 Op. cit. pp. 130–2.

page 444 note 6 Hengel M., ‘Das Gleichnis von den Weingärtnern’, Z.N.W. LIX (1968), 139.

page 444 note 7 The Teaching of Jesus (Cambridge, 1935), p. 104.

page 444 note 8 Matt. xxi. 45 ‘the chief priests and Pharisees’; Luke xx. 19 ‘the scribes and chief priests’.

page 444 note 9 Matt. xxiv. 45–51; Luke xii. 42–6.

page 444 note 10 Matt. xxv. 1–13.

page 444 note 11 Matt. xxv. 14–30; Luke xix. 12–27.

page 444 note 12 Mark xiii. 33–7; Luke xii. 35–8.

page 445 note 1 Kümmel W. G., ‘Das Gleichnis von den bösen Weingärtnern’, Aux Sources de la Tradition Chréienne: Mélanges offerts à M. Goguel (Neuchâtel and Paris, 1950), pp. 120–31.

page 445 note 2 Luke viii. 27; xx. 9; xxiii. 8; Acts viii. II; xiv. 3; xxvii. 9.

page 445 note 3 Matt. 7 times; Mark I; Luke 4.

page 445 note 4 Contrast Matt. xx. II.

page 445 note 5 So Montefiore H. in Montefiore H. and Turner H. E. W. (eds.), Thomas and the Evangelists (London, 1962), p. 49.

page 445 note 6 Isa. v. 7.

page 445 note 7 Op. cit. p. 71.

page 445 note 8 The Hebrew of Isa. v. 2, ‘he dug it up’, is rendered by the LXX, ‘I fenced it round’.

page 446 note 1 φραγμ⋯ν αὐτῷ περι⋯θηκεν for Mark's περι⋯θηκεν φραγμ⋯ν and the addition of ⋯ν αὐτῷ after ⋯ρυξεν

page 446 note 2 So Jeremias, op. cit. p. 71, note 83, following E. Haenchen.

page 446 note 3 Op. cit. p. 129. It is referred to in error as v. 4.

page 446 note 4 Op. cit. p. 62.

page 446 note 5 For the stoning of the prophets cf. II Chron. xxiv. 21; Matt, xxiii. 37; Luke xiii. 34; Heb. xi. 37.

page 447 note 1 This is an evidently necessary correction, accepted by the editors and commentators, for ‘Perhaps he did not know them’.

page 447 note 2 For this as originally a parable, cfDodd , Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, 1963), pp. 380–2. Cf. John xv. 15.

page 447 note 3 Cf. my book, The Human Face of God (London, 1973), pp. 186–8, citing Jeremias and Dodd.

page 447 note 4 This oddly is not recognized by Jeremias (op. cit. p. 73) nor by Montefiore, who specifically says: ‘All the synoptic versions record that the owner sent last of all his “only son”’ (op. cit. P. 63).

page 447 note 5 But in xii. 22 (where it cannot have theological significance) Mark has ἔσχατον while Matthew and Luke have ὔστερον So it may be a purely stylistic preference.

page 448 note 1 Op. cit. 1 p. 59.

page 448 note 2 Nineham D. E., The Gospel of Mark (London, 2 1968), p. 312.

page 448 note 3 Bammel E., ‘Das Gleichnis von den bösen Winzern(Mk xii. 1–9) und das jüdische Erbrecht’, Revue Internationale des Droits de l' Antiquité, 3me série, VI (1959), 14 f.

page 448 note 4 J. D. M. Derrett, ‘The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers’, Law in the New Testament, p. 306.

page 448 note 5 Op. cit. pp. 49 f.

page 449 note 1 His eye may have slipped from Isa. v. 5 to v. 4.

page 449 note 2 Contrast Luke vii. 42; x. 36.

page 450 note 1 Cf. the polemical ‘How do the scribes say?’ in Mark xii. 35–7 (David's son).

page 450 note 2 Cf. John viii. 17: ‘In your own law it is written’ (the witness of two men is true).

page 450 note 3 The Corner Stone’, E.T. LXXXIV (1973), 233.

page 450 note 4 The Christological use of the Old Testament in the New Testament’, N.T.S. XVIII (1971–2), 1114.

page 450 note 5 So, tentatively, Wilson R. McL., Studies in the Gospel of Thomas (London, 1960), p. 102.

page 451 note 1 Op. cit. pp. 74 f.

page 451 note 2 Grant R. M. and Freedman D. N., The Secret Sayings of Jesus (London, 1960), ad loc., note that the Naasenes too were impressed with this mysterious saying (Hippolytus, Ref. v. 7. 35). Cf. Rev. ii. 17?

page 451 note 3 Crossan J. D., ‘The parable of the wicked husbandmen’, J.B.L. XL (1971), 451–65, reaches the same conclusion.

page 451 note 4 Robinson J. M. and Koester H., Trajectories through Early Christianity (Philadelphia, 1971), pp. 130–2, 166–87.

page 454 note 1 Cf. Jeremias, op. cit. p. 72, note 84.

page 455 note 1 Op. cit. p. 126.

page 456 note 1 The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition (Cambridge, 1969), appendix 11, pp. 290–3.

page 456 note 2 Cf. my Jesus and His Coming (London, 1957), pp. 4350. I there argued, on the basis of the priority of Mark, for a subsequent alteration in the Markan text. But there is very little evidence for this, and none in Mark xii. 6(except possibly for the omission of ἔσχατον).

page 456 note 3 Op. cit. p. 8.

page 456 note 4 Farmer himself fully concedes this: ‘There is nothing wrong in hypothecating the existence of an otherwise unknown source or sources if there exists evidence that is best explained thereby… But a critic should not posit the existence of hypothetical sources until he has made an attempt to solve the problem without appeal to such sources.’ (‘How material common to Matthew and Luke is viewed on the Griesbach hypothesis: Prolegomenon to further discussion’. As yet unpublished.)

page 456 note 5 Turner C. H., ‘Marcan usage, part VI’, J.T.S. XXVI (1924–5), 346.

page 456 note 6 Streeter B. H., The Four Gospels (London, 1924; 4 1930), p. 331. Farmer's isolation of this clause obscures the fact that in its context it is not jussive but concessive.

page 457 note 1 Ibid. Earlier he mentions, only to refute, the argument for Ur-Marcus from what Mark, Matthew and Luke omit (pp. 168–81). But this is in any case irrelevant to our passage.

page 457 note 2 Op. cit. p. 93.

page 457 note 3 Op. cit. p. 94.

page 457 note 4 οἱ γεωργο⋯ in Matt. xxi. 35 and Luke xx. 10; ἰδ⋯ντες in Matt. xxi. 38 and Luke xx. 14; and οῡν in Matt. xxi. 40 and Luke xx. 15. The only agreement of substance, though not of verbal identity, is the reversal of the order of the killing and the throwing out in Matt. xxi. 39 and Luke xx. 15.

page 457 note 5 J. A. Fitzmyer dares to say: ‘To my way of thinking, the possibility of Ur-Markus is still admissible’, ‘The priority of Mark and the “Q” source in Luke’ in Miller D. G., Jesus and Man's Hope, I (Pittsburgh, 1970), 147.

page 457 note 6 CfKoester H., Synoptische Überlieferung bei den apostolischen Vätern (Berlin, 1957).

page 458 note 1 This approach is very much in line with the openness urged by Sanders at the conclusion of his careful study of the tendencies of the Synoptic tradition (op. cit. pp. 278 f.).

page 458 note 2 This is agreed between Butler B. C., The Originality of Matthew (London, 1951), pp. 6271; G. M. Styler, ‘The Priority of Mark’ in C. F. D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament, pp. 224 f.; and Farmer, op. cit. pp. 66, 212–15.

page 458 note 3 Farmer raises the question: ‘Since both Matthew and Luke deviated from the Ur-gospel, and since neither had knowledge of the action of the other, why do not their deviations from the order of the Ur-gospel coincide more often? Why are there not more instances where neither Matthew nor Luke supports the order found in Mark?’ (op. cit. p. 214). An answer might be that neither has that much occasion to diverge from the original order (any more than does Mark) and that when either does so it it is for reasons of redactional rearrangement that the other does not share. A conspiracy theory is out of place.

page 459 note 1 Op. cit. p. 41.

page 459 note 2 Eusebius, H.E. III. 39. 15 f.

page 459 note 3 Here one should almost certainly include an independent version of the passion narrative incorporated in Luke. John has yet another.

page 459 note 4 Particularly the catechetical and disciplinary matter characteristic of Matthew, also to be found, independently as I believe, in that Christian ‘manual of discipline’, the Didache.

page 459 note 5 We are not here concerned with the evidence that the Gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew (like that of John) may themselves have gone through several states or recensions. For evidence of this even in Mark, cf. my Jesus and His Coming, pp. 128–36.

page 459 note 6 For the positions of Marsh and Holtzmann, cf. Farmer, op. cit. pp. 11–15, 40–5. For Armitage Robinson's usage cfLightfoot R. H., History and Interpretation in the Gospels (London, 1935), p. 27.

page 460 note 1 He would not deny that there was parallel material in Luke not directly derived from Matthew (e.g. the parables of the Pounds, the Great Feast and the Lost Sheep, and parts of the eschatological discourse in Luke xvii), where the priority of each version must be assessed on its merits.

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