Mahlon H Smith,
Mark 1:13: καὶ ἦν ἐν τῇ ῇρήμῳ...πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ Σατανᾶ...;
Luke 4:1-2: καὶ ἤγετο... ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ...πειραζόμενος
ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου;
Matt 4:1: ἀνήχθη εἰς τὴν
ἔρημον... πειρασθῆναι ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου./1/
This study retraces
the origin of the gospel references to Jesus going into the
wilderness to be tested. Though the written narratives
are admittedly stylized "fiction," it is argued that they
are not purely imaginary fabrications but rather products of
historical controversy over the spiritual source of Jesus' behavior.
Part 1 examines and rejects the plausibility of Mark, Q or
Matthew being the original source of these reports.
Part 2 examines three rationales for the formation of the
temptation accounts in oral tradition: ethical model, biographical
reminiscence and dialectical rebuttal. While the first two have
left some imprint on the information in the temptation narratives,
the case is made that the reason for reporting Jesus' ordeal
in the first place was to refute opponents' charges that Jesus'
lifestyle was demonic.
The argument proceeds cautiously in the manner of scholastic
disputation, exposing the inadequacy of traditional explanations
before laying out a thesis that is uncommon and provocative.
Those who are already convinced that the tradition of Jesus'
temptation antedates any written text are invited to go directly
to part 2; but be warned that many of the more common interpretations
of the passages are disposed of in part 1.
The historical significance of the temptation narratives
is summarized in part 3 and six theses proposed to test consensus
on relevant issues.
Historical analysis of the synoptic accounts of Jesus' ordeal in the
wilderness has to begin by granting that they have all the marks of
fiction. Some scholars have tried to make sense of these passages
in terms of Jesus' personal experience./2/
But most interpret
them as a myth or midrash that some early Christian fabricated to typify
Surface details tend to favor the latter. Jesus is the sole human
to witness this scene. Since there are no hints that he informed
others of his experience, it is easy to conclude that some story-teller
made the whole thing up. The narrators' words recall Judaic scripture,
indicating they were more interested in relating Jesus to Israel's heroic
lore than in recounting his own immediate experience. Creative
license is further evident in the selection (or invention) of details
and manipulation of plot. Each gospel tailors the "facts" to fit its
own narrative web.
But who probably got what from where? No fiction is self-spinning;
so something led somebody to produce this story in the first place.
While story-tellers may be free to construct any plot they wish,
their data is often based on experience. In trying to identify
an author's sources, the historical critic has to distinguish fabricated
patterns from any that may reflect a real situation. Simply to
cast the synoptists' reports that Jesus spent time "in the wilderness...being
tested by the Accuser" into the wastebasket without first testing the
evidence would be uncritical. The variants, at least, demand a plausible
Since the synoptic stories were not spun in splendid isolation,
a claim that information was invented by one writer must be
measured by the coherence of the alleged author's plan of
composition and the pattern of redaction by the others.
But the relation of Mark 1:12-13 to Matt 4:1-11 //Luke 4:1-13
resists explanation by any literary source theory. Thus,
Jesus' wilderness ordeal was not concocted by Mark or Matthew or
1.1. Cryptic Summary (Mark
The critical consensus that Mark gives the earliest form of a
synoptic narrative is less firm here than anywhere else. This
two verse interlude between Mark's accounts of Jesus' baptism in
the Jordan and his Galilean mission is better characterized as a
transition than a story. But unlike other Markan summaries of
Jesus' sorties into a new setting, this passage is not
explained as a sketch of the hero's typical behavior./4/
And the few motifs invoked here are contradicted by Mark's own
later characterization of Jesus' place in history.
"The wilderness" (ἡ ἔρημος,
nominative with article) is
the stage from which model Israelite prophets---Moses, Elijah,
and John the Baptist---were said to have launched campaigns of
To send Jesus alone into
such a setting for "forty days" seems designed to recall
similar retreats by Moses or Elijah./6/
Another parallel to the
latter may be found in the fact that Mark insists that Jesus was
"served" by angels./7/
But to see prophetic typology in
these few words, one has to be either a pious Jew rehearsed in
haggadic lore or a Christian scholar like Matthew (and many of
us), seeking any parallel to OT paradigms. Mark gives
ample evidence that these are not probable profiles either for
himself or for his intended audience.
Among the canonical gospels, only Matthew and John's signs
source consistently stress motifs that portray Jesus as a
figure like Moses or Elijah (or the Baptist, for that matter).
Mark, for his part, devotes considerable energy and space to
deconstructing such impressions that, he notes, were popular
among Jews and Jewish Christians./8/
Elsewhere, when he has
Jesus retreat into the wild, he is careful to describe it as only
"a deserted spot" (ἔρημος τόπος; anarthous
adjectival construction)./9/ And if a scene contains other
elements that can possibly be interpreted as a prophetic
sign (e.g., gathering 12 baskets of remnants), Mark refocuses
it to shift the significance elsewhere./10/
But he was hardly
apt to focus this passage on its current conclusion (angels
serving Jesus), since later (10:45) he has Jesus himself correct
some of his earliest companions by stressing that he did not
"come to be served."
Moreover, if Mark meant to suggest a prophetic mission
here, he should have provided his reader with clearer clues.
Biblical reports directed Moses' and Elijah's retreats to "the
mountain" (not "the wilderness") and clocked each as staying
"forty days and forty nights."/11/
While Matthew cites
the correct duration (4:2) and location (4:8) for a traditional prophetic typology,
Mark misses both.
One can find a prophetic prototype in Mark 1:13 only if one
imports information Mark does not mention and ignores
other details. Key words in this verse have generated
suggestions that Mark had some other mythic
model in mind. But these also fail to pass the test of
(1) Israel. Moses' and Elijah's 40 day retreats to
Mount Horeb were to encounter YHWH, not to be tested. But
Deut 8:2 claims God himself led Israel into the wilderness for
40 years, "testing" its obedience to his commands. This
experience was further justified by the model of parental
discipline: "as a man disciplines his son" (8:5). Since Israel
was traditionally regarded as a corporate personality, this
filial metaphor came to be treated as an ontological fact. So
God could be characterized as referring to Israel as "my son" (Hos
11:1). This equation was regarded as reversible; and what was
true of the corporate person characterized the individual.
Thus, as a true Israelite, Jesus could be portrayed as "son of
God"; and as "son of God," he could be portrayed as Israel.
If God led one into the wilderness for testing, the same had to
be said of the other. So, as soon as God addresses Jesus as "my
son" (Mark 1:11), it follows "directly"
(εὐθὺς) that Jesus had
to be sent into the wilderness to be tested (1:12-13).
Such a logical process could have led Mark to link the
baptism and temptation pericopes. But it provides an imperfect
explanation of the central motifs in either passage. Unlike
Israel, which always was portrayed as crossing the sea
(and river) "on dry ground," Jesus came to the Jordan to be
(totally) "immersed" (ἐβαπτίσθη)
and so has to ascend "out
of the water" (1:10). Similarly, Jewish scripture sides with
the parental pedagogue, insisting that God himself
proctored Israel's tests, out of concern that his son had
learned the lessons needed for survival in the face of
overwhelming opposition. Mark, however, adopts a child's
perspective on testing, insisting that the examination was set
by "the adversary" or "accuser," who obviously intended Jesus to
fail. Mark could hardly have been thinking of Deut 8:5 when he
identified Jesus' examiner as ὁ Σατανᾶς.
So it is unlikely that
the preceding verses inspired the composition of Mark 1:12-13.
Deut 8:2-5 certainly influenced the development of the dialogue
between Jesus and the devil in the other synoptists'
story of Jesus' temptations. But, unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark
does not make the "son of God" motif the focus of Jesus' ordeal;
which is odd, if this was his pretext for creating
a parallel between the experience of Jesus and Israel at this point. Elsewhere, Mark cites acts that seem to make
Jesus revive national solidarity: delegation of twelve
representatives and collection of twelve baskets./12/
sets these in a narrative frame which radically challenges those who thought that
Jesus' main concern was to restore
Israel. So it is hardly likely that an Israel typology inspired
Mark to invent this allusion to Jesus being "tested in the wilderness."
(2) Son of Adam. The failure of nationalistic paradigms to account for the
content of Mark 1:12-13 has led some scholars to find allusions
to a universal Adamic typology in these verses. Mark's Jesus
regularly characterizes himself as "son of The Human"
(ὁ υἵος τοῦ ἀνθρώπου).
And the Markan son of man(kind)
sayings often allude to OT passages about the cosmic status of
the human being, ranging from the creation stories of Genesis to
the apocalyptic visions of Daniel./13/
But, though these polar
scenarios are better able to account for the Markan attribution
of Jesus' ordeal to "the Adversary," they provide far from
perfect prototypes for the rest of his description of this
Judaic anthropology was rooted in the conviction that God
granted the Human (Adam or ben Adam) authority
over every wild beast (Gen 1:26, Ps 8:6-8) until he succombed to
temptation by the serpent, which was identified as the
original "adversary" of humankind./14/
So, Jewish and Christian apocalypticists envisioned the restoration of proper political
order in God's cosmos as an ordeal in which bestial adversaries
are once again subjected to humanizing forces aided by heaven./15/
Since this is clearly the matrix of Mark's own image of Jesus,
he might well have introduced either paradigm into his
script. But while Mark 1:12-13 provides the proper scene
(temptation/trial) and cast (Satan, beasts, angels), it fails to
develop the plot of either the primordial or eschatological
If the author of this gospel meant to suggest a restaging of either
the creation or judgment myth, he confused his sets and omitted
key props. For example, if Mark really had Gen 3 in mind, one
would expect mention of a garden or at least a tree./16/
the other hand, he was thinking of Dan 7, he might better have
sent Jesus to "the sea," as he so often does. "The wilderness,"
which he mentions here twice in two verses, is found in neither
OT script./17/ Moreover, Mark locates this incident forty-two
verses and eleven scenes before he introduces Jesus'
first reference to "the son of man," which is odd if any
Adamic image inspired the composition of Mark 1:12-13.
Certainly, it is a stretch of the imagination to find an
allusion to the grotesque monsters of Dan 7 in Mark's bland
observation: "and he was with the beasts."/18/
Mark's reference to Jesus' wilderness ordeal is based on any
classic myth, then he has given it a totally demythologized
setting. After all, the Judean and Jordanian wildernesses
were and are the habitat of all kinds of wildlife (cf. Isa
30:6). Given such a crisp realistic description of a relatively
bare stage, it is better to keep one's speculation on Mark's
characterization of Jesus' performance there also rather
(1) Realism. Mark's temporal and spatial markers for the
scene after Jesus' baptism in the Jordan are inherently
realistic, as is his description of the experience itself. Much
of the region around the Jordan is really badlands, unable to
support permanent human settlement but---like any desert
region---home to wild creatures who shun human companionship.
Nevertheless, humans---either individually or in small
groups---could and do survive in this inhospitable setting for
extended periods. For Jews "forty days" was not primarily a
biblical phrase with connotations of the flood or exodus, as it
came to be in later Christian circles. Rather it was as common
a reference to a relatively long period of time as "month" is to
us. In casual conversation events are said to last this long
without concern for precedent or precise calculation. Survival
in the desert for such an extended period is a real "test" for
any person. Those who endure the dangers to human existence
posed by the region are often regarded as extraordinary
(2) Performance. Finding a good explanation of the stark
staging of Mark 1:12-13 is no problem. Comprehending the
author's apparent lack of direction in blocking the action
between his personae, however, is. The only inherently
mythic motifs in Mark's report are his allusions to "Σατανᾶς"
and "ἄγγελοι." Jesus is sent offstage to meet "the
Accuser"; "messengers" (from God) come to his aid. But what
happened is left up to the audience's imagination. When Jesus
reappears in Mark's next scene (1:14-15), it is in another
region and his baptizer is in prison. The reason for the latter
circumstance is clarified in a later flashback (Mark 6:17-29).
But Mark never alludes to Jesus' wilderness ordeal again. So
it is odd that he thought it necessary to begin his report of
Jesus' exploits with an inexplicit allusion to an inherently
Classic folklore focuses attention on exaggerated accounts of
the hero's ordeals, because these initial triumphs are
essential to convince the audience that this is not just an
average human. Mark tells readers that Jesus "was
tested," but neglects to recount his performance. Mark's
subsequent claims that Jesus' behavior was "essentially
extraordinary" (κατ' ἐξουσίαν) make the omission of a
description of his inaugural ordeal all the more strange,
especially when his narrative amply dramatizes Jesus' ability to
defeat "accusers" in any arena.
(3) Plot. There are four possible
narratological reasons for Mark's failure to recount the
content and outcome of Jesus' wilderness ordeal: lack of
interest, lack of information, lack of agreement, or lack of
skill. The first three make sense only if Mark did not invent
this incident. People do not fabricate fantasies to treat
them as unimportant. Ineptness in recounting a story, however,
can plague anyone in the chain of transmission. Authors often
leave traces of fuzzy ideas that editors excise or expand, while
auditors (and readers) generally get only a partial grasp of
something they have been told. Is the lack of plot
development in Mark 1:12-13 the sign of a false start or
indication that Mark is reporting information that he did not fabricate?
These two verses have been characterized as "an aimless
conjunction... which dulls the potentially dramatic
effect" of the scene./20/
this critique is severe, it is not easily dismissed. Mark's
construction is somewhat clumsy. His grammar is
unpolished, his seams between scenes rough, and his
story-telling somewhat awkward. His draft gospel gives Matthew
and Luke plenty of material to "improve."
But careful analysis of Mark's narrative syntax shows that his
conjunction of elements is hardly "aimless."/21/
sandwiches, and deconstructs narrative segments with a
sophistication that intensifies suspense. The really clumsy
story-teller, anticipates the outcome by putting the punch line
first. Mark 1:12-13 hardly does that. The author sets the
stage, but leaves the audience waiting. The drama does not
occur where and when one expects it. Main characters appear but
flee into the wings without clear contact. Hints of conflict
are heard. All the markers point to a really important
contest. The name of the winner is revealed (1:1), but the
character of the game is not. To find out what is at stake, one
has to watch, recall, and watch again (13:5,37).
Mark is a radical apocalypticist, whose point is precisely that
"seeing" the true victory remains "potential" even after an
apparent loss (8:35). The "dramatic effect" of Jesus'
ordeal---his return with the angels (13:26-27)---is not to be
seen in the beginning, nor in the middle (8:38), but may
be seen in the end (16:7). Some, but not all, will recognize
Jesus as a winner (9:1), if they are not deluded in
thinking that the ordeal has past (13:5-6,21-23). Mark shows
his audience that Jesus passed his tests, but only to
tell them that theirs are next (13:11). Jesus gives
his word that the Accuser---theirs as well as his---"has
an end" (3:26), but Satan is still able to make them forget this
(4:15). Fear or denial of desertion are twin threats to
their safe passage./22/
They must stay alert, if they are
not to fail their own "testing" (14:38).
Mark's aim is not to illustrate Jesus' exploits but to prepare
readers to face their own trials alone. He stresses that
Jesus was not the typical hero that others expected.
Jesus does not bind the adversary for them. But as
a seasoned competitor, he coaches others to have enough
confidence to overcome any obstacle on their own./23/
Mark imitates myth only to undermine it. His Jesus is the
A survey of Mark shows that his failure to recount Jesus'
confrontation with Satan conforms to the rest of his narrative
agenda. But it does not explain why he has "the spirit cast
[Jesus] out into the desert" (1:12). If Mark were totally free
to create his own scenario, he could have Jesus encounter
Satan at any spot in a typical itinerary through an
inhabited region---like Caesarea Philippi (8:33). Mark knew
that the wilderness was associated with ascetic Jewish heroes
like the Baptist. But his Jesus faces accusers precisely
because he did not conform to that role (2:15-20,
8:27-33). The fact that Mark insists on beginning Jesus' public
career with this uncharacteristic digression indicates that
he did not invent this incident.
1.2. Biblical rebuttal (Matt
Mark's cursory reference to Jesus' wilderness ordeal has led
many to conclude that he got his information from another
source./24/ So, the possibility that he knew Matthew and Luke's
longer version needs testing.
The plot consists of Jesus being offered occasions to act in his
own interest, which he rejects with a string of quotes from
Deuteronomy./25/ Hence, the test involves Jesus' handling
of multiple choices. He passes because he proves that he knows
and obeys the teaching of Moses. Here is a well-composed series
of scenes that offers a self-contained mini-myth in which Jesus
wins a war of wits with "the devil." It is so coherent,
in fact, that it tends to control one's reading of Mark
1:12-13. Once one has heard the longer account, it
automatically provides markers for measuring the shorter. Yet,
is it likely that Mark heard or read it? And can an
author be positively identified? Jesus' wilderness ordeal can
be treated as a literary fiction only if the answer to
both critical questions is "yes." The texts themselves,
however, make "no" a better response to each.
(a) Censorship? Early Jewish and Christian texts
offer ample evidence that scribes felt free to reconstruct even
written tradition to insure a "correct" interpretation. So, in
principle, Mark could have reported a censored version of
this legend./26/ He might not have repeated it in full because
it focuses on a personal victory for Jesus which makes
him conform to a Mosaic model. This does not fit Mark's
portrait of Jesus as an independent spirit who came into
conflict with other Jews because he departed from traditional
Jewish piety. Mark stresses that Jesus amazes and disturbs
people precisely because his teaching is unique (κατ'
ἐξουσίαν). In Matt 4:1-11//Luke 4:1-13 Jesus emerges from
his oral examination without uttering a single original word. A
person who can quote biblical texts applicable to every occasion
might well earn a reputation as a pious and learned scholar, but
he would hardly cause the kind of controversy that
provides much of the plot in Mark and the other synoptics.
In this instance, however, a theory of Markan redaction is
implausible, since the dialogue he omits advances his own
characterization of Jesus in many respects. Though Mark
obviously did not regard Jesus as an orthodox rabbi, he did
portray him as capable of citing scripture and identifying
verses that a professional scribe would consider most
important./27/ The passages from Deuteronomy that Jesus
cites in the longer temptation account actually aid Mark's
emphasis on Jesus' subordination of his physical welfare to
undivided devotion and obedience to God./28/
Also, tests in
which Jesus rejects political power and does not perform
miracles on demand are the core of scenes at the heart of Mark's
gospel./29/ And Mark's focus on the "son of God" motif in the
baptism and transfiguration scenes and Jesus' later encounters
with "unclean spirits" makes it hard to envision him
deliberately eliminating or forgetting verses in which "the
devil" identifies Jesus as such./30/
If Mark dropped the
core of the longer temptation story and kept the frame, he would
have suppressed material that is typical of his portrait
of Jesus while preserving information that is not. So, a
suggestion that Mark knew the temptation dialogue of Matthew
and Luke but cut it from his script makes editorial nonsense.
(b) Script in search of an author.
Even if Mark was not fully familiar with the other synoptics'
account of Jesus' three temptations, their version could be a
literary fiction. The extent of verbal agreement between Matthew
and Luke and the verbatim quotes from the LXX point in this
direction. The hypothesis of an original text, however,
requires a reasonably obvious redaction history to account for
the minor differences between Matthew and Luke, and the absence
of the dialogue in Mark. Two patterns are theoretically
(1) Expansion of Mark. The longer account may
be a scribal attempt to "improve" Mark's cryptic reference
to Jesus' wilderness test by supplying a transcript to show
what Mark neglects to mention: that Jesus passed this
examination. In this case, the author-editor has to be
identified as either Matthew or Luke, or the composer of a
common source, who was also familiar with Mark. In
either case this scribe would be a secondary tradant, and
thus could not be credited with creating the report of Jesus' wilderness ordeal.
(2) Mark knew text indirectly. In theory,
Matthew or the anonymous author of his non-Markan source (Q)
might have invented this story to bolster his personal
impression of Jesus. Then, while Luke (and Matthew) copied
this account with minor revisions, Mark got only the gist of
the story through the oral grapevine. Yet, while such a
scenario would justify viewing Jesus' encounter with the
devil as a typical fictional hero's ordeal, it does not
explain why Mark missed the climax: the devil's departure.
The main problem with both of these theories is that
neither Matthew nor Q is likely to have fabricated this particular
Q is the least likely source. In fact, Matt
4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 have proven to be "something of an
embarrassment" to Q scholars./31/
verbal parallels in Jesus' dialogue with the devil make it a
strong candidate for inclusion in this primitive sayings
gospel. But its mythic plot and representation of Jesus as a
Deuteronomic scholar are even less at home in Q than in
Mark (which omits it). Stratification of the Q material by
type---wisdom sayings, prophetic judgments---leaves this
passage isolated. It may have been inserted by an
editor (Q3?) in a belated attempt to characterize the Q
community and its founder as the true Israel./32/
is no evidence that it was composed as part of a larger
narrative frame for the sayings collection. According
to Q, it is not Jesus but the Jewish people who went "out to
the wilderness" to find the Baptist (Matt 11:7//Luke 7:24).
Q, in fact, contrasts Jesus' lifestyle with that of John
(Matt 11:18-19//Luke 7:33-34). Q's Jesus was hardly
known for a 40 day fast! Moreover, elsewhere in Q, it is
not Jesus but John who is the prophet who upholds the Mosaic
Torah./33/ An editor of Q who wanted to portray Jesus
as a law-abiding Jew, might better suppress such sayings
than fabricate Jesus' dialogue with the devil. The apparent
absence of a Q baptismal scene makes it just as unlikely
that the author of this passage knew Mark. Therefore, if
the story of Jesus' wilderness ordeal was in Q, it probably
was swept into that collection as an independent unit,
along with other oral debris.
The case against Matthean authorship is less obvious.
For, unlike other gospel writers, Matthew makes a point of
characterizing Jesus as a law-abiding Jew who appears in the
mold of Moses. The mountain motif in Matt 4:8 is typical of
this gospel and the dialogue about worship and world dominion
(4:9-10) is related to its concluding scene (28:16-18). But
though the motifs of the temptation pericope are more at home in
Matthew than in any other gospel, there are syntactical signs
that it did not originate here.
In wording and sentence grammar Luke 4:1-2 is closer to Mark
1:12-13 than to Matt 4:1./34/
Mark, therefore, offers a better
base text for synoptic editors than Matthew. To hold that
Matthew's version is original, one has to presuppose one of two
implausible redactional patterns. Either Mark made a condensed
paraphrase of Matthew (substituting Σατανᾶς for
διαβόλος), which Luke only partially reconstituted
(restoring Matthew's διαβόλος and dialogue). Or Luke
made a grammatically awkward revision of Matt 4:1-2 which Mark
summarized./35/ Either scenario is made even less plausible by
the conclusion of these passages. If Luke combined the
Markan and Matthean versions of Jesus' wilderness ordeal, he
dropped the ending of both: Jesus being "served" by angels. On
the other hand, to hold that Mark's version is derivative, one
has to claim he took an inconsequential statement from
Matthew's ending, appended it to a summary of Luke's
opening and omitted or altered every verbal parallel in their
scripts. It is more likely that Matthew and Luke independently
"improved" an ambiguous passage in Mark by inserting a
temptation dialogue that each found in Q. But since neither
Mark nor Q is apt to have invented this scene, its origin has to
be sought in an oral source.
Though Mark and Q apparently knew different versions of Jesus'
wilderness ordeal, these probably come from a single oral
report. The original cannot be reconstructed exactly, since a
story may be sketched or stretched in alternate performances.
But the extant texts set parameters for the prototype. The
question of whether the initial core was closer to Mark's sketch
or to Q's dramatic dialogue can be resolved only if one is able
to identify the circumstances that led to its formation.
Three rationales have been suggested for early Christian
interest in recounting Jesus' confrontation with "the
Adversary": biography, paradigm and polemic. All probably
contributed to the oral development and preservation of this
scene. But one needs to assess the probable priority of
interests to decide if this report originated in some situation
within Jesus' own experience or as just one of the many
fictions spun in the folklore of his followers.
2.1. Exemplary Behavior
A major factor in forming early Christian interest in stories
about Jesus was the need for models to orient one's life. As a
founder figure, Jesus was the prime person with whom Christians
were invited to identify./36/
Such idolization, however, affects
the collective memory of the leader. Later advocates of social
solidarity and discipline tend to make him the model of any
virtue they deem necessary, as present crises reshape
recollection of the past. The recounting of Jesus' arrest and
execution was obviously influenced by the later persecution of
his followers. So, the trials of later Christians would have
sparked interest in a story of Jesus tested by the "Accuser" (Σατανᾶς)
or "Slanderer" (διάβολος). After all, the author of
Hebrews bases Jesus' ability to represent others before God on
claims that he "has been tested in everything, just like us"
(Heb 4:15; cf. 2:18). The question is, however, whether the
need to reassure a congregation confronting its own adversaries
provides sufficient cause for creating the gist of the
synoptic accounts of Jesus' ordeal.
The answer is "probably not."
(a) With beasts and angels. In Mark 1:13 Jesus is
not tested in total isolation. Rather, he is surrounded by
"beasts" on one hand and "angels" on the other. Paul refers to
both in describing his own trials (1 Cor 4:9, 15:32). So it is
possible that a Christian audience exposed to hostile charges
would take comfort from Mark's picture of Jesus' wilderness
ordeal. In response to such situations, Jesus urges
followers to let the spirit guide them (Mark 13:9-11), which is
just how he acts in this scene.
But neither Mark nor Paul call judicial prosecution "testing" (πειράσθαι
Unlike Paul, Jesus is not
described as "fighting" with the beasts. And when Paul refers
to "being tested by Satan," it is to warn couples of the dangers
of prolonged separation from sexual contact (1 Cor 7:5). Such
talk would hardly have generated Mark's description of Jesus'
(b) The model child. In Q's dialogue, the devil
twice invites Jesus to prove he is God's "son" (Matt 4:3,6//Luke
4:3,9). Early Christians claimed such status not just for Jesus
but for also themselves, because they also were "led by the
spirit."/38/ Several Q sayings that are probably based on
something Jesus said, invite hearers to view themselves as childen of God./39/
Matthew incorporated these into Jesus'
opening sermon, which he scheduled soon after Jesus' dialogue
with the devil. Two of these sayings are embedded in passages
that address a hungry people worried about starvation./40/
argues that no real father would offer his child a "stone"
instead of "bread."/41/
And the other concludes with advice
to seek the Father's "kingdom" before worrying about
This advice, in fact, reflects the order of the petitions in the
prayer that Q credits to Jesus: "Father...establish your
kingdom...give us our daily bread" (Matt 6:9-11//Luke 11:2-3).
And this prayer probably concluded with the plaintive plea of
children who do not want to be led "to a test" (εἰς
πειρασμόν; Matt 6:13a=Luke 11:4b). So Q's (original?)
audience would be well prepared to identify with many motifs in
the dialogue between Jesus and the tempter. In Q's social
context, Jesus could be seen as an older brother taking his
siblings' tests for them.
But while such parallels help explain the inclusion of the
temptation story in Q, they do not account for the scenario
itself. In this story Jesus does not follow the advice
he gives the Q community: namely, ask the Father for bread. And
though Q may have originally opened with Jesus announcing that
the poor could claim God's kingdom, it probably contained no
hint that this might be taken to mean world dominion for Jesus,
much less for his audience (cf. Matt 4:8-9//Luke 4:5-7). At a
later date, the persecuted Q community might have found
itself constrained to worship "the devil" (=Roman emperor?).
But it probably never was in a position to interpret the
invitation to jump off the temple existentially. Nor were early
Christians apt to imagine that they could change stones into
bread. So, the Q temptation narrative is more easily read as a
cautionary tale against exaggerating Jesus' uniqueness, than as
a paradigm for the average person's predicament.
(c) Not like the wilderness. The major problem
with the hypothesis that the gospel reports of Jesus' ordeal
originated as a paradigm for early Christians is with the
setting. A period of testing in the wilderness would have
existential significance only to an audience which identified
itself as Israel. While neither Mark nor Q appeal to a sense of
national solidarity, Hebrews does. Yet the author of this
work does not link his claim that Jesus was tested "like
us" to the wilderness. On the contrary, in 3:8-10 he quotes the
warning in Ps 95:8-10 for Israel not to test God as their
ancestors did in the wilderness. Hebrews associates "the
wilderness" with rebellion, sin and death (3:16-17), which is
hardly why Jesus was sent there in the incident in Mark or
Q. So, the writer of Hebrews was probably not directly familiar
with any version of the gospel accounts of Jesus' temptations.
Nor does his logic provide a good pretext for inventing a report
that Jesus spent time in the wilderness.
The fact that Hebrews appears to be totally independent of the
synoptic trajectory makes it clear that the tradition that Jesus
was thoroughly "tested" was not invented by Mark or Q. But it
also shows that the synoptic accounts of Jesus' ordeal in the
wilderness were not apt to have been invented to show Jesus'
solidarity with his people. The Q version in particular
presupposes the difference between Jesus and Israel. By
claiming that Jesus declined to repeat the sins ascribed to
Israel's ancestors, the Q dialogue challenges the traditional
connotations of the wilderness motif./43/
Both Mark and Q admit
that Jesus spent some time in a region which Jews generally
associated with apostasy from the true God. But each tries to
make it clear that his performance there was not like
that of their common ancestors. Therefore, biographical and/or
polemical concerns probably took precedence over paradigmatic
interests in the formation of reports that the Adversary tested
Jesus in the wilderness.
2.2 Recollected Experience
From the perspective of narratology, Mark's report of Jesus'
wilderness retreat acts as the defocalizer needed to conclude
his account of Jesus' baptismal experience. Jesus sees
the spirit focus on him (Mark 1:10) which leads him to leave the
company of Jews who were focusing on John (1:5,9). John made
his initial appearance "in the wilderness" (1:4), so Jesus
disappears into the same setting (1:12).
Many elements of this report are historically plausible. It is
a fact that a man named John who advocated baptism attracted the
attention for many Jews for a period during Herod Antipas'
tenure./44/ It is also reasonably certain that the tradition
that Jesus was baptized by this John was not a later
fabrication./45/ The probable locus of John's activity was the
Jordan valley; and most of this region was devoid of permanent
human habitation. To get to and from John, Jesus would have had
to pass through "wilderness." And the gospels give ample
evidence that he did not stay one of John's followers./46/
Therefore, only the gospels' chronology and characterization of
the purpose of Jesus' wilderness venture as a period of testing
are really historical problems.
(a) Prolonged retreat. The primary reason for
interest in Jesus' trip into the wilderness appears to be its
duration. Mark had no narratological reason for inventing a
forty-day stop-over for Jesus in that region./47/
normal conditions, it would take a person a mere tenth of that
time to journey between the lower Jordan and Galilee. And,
given the dangers, travelers did not usually make the trek
alone. While Mark often portrays Jesus as seeking
solitude, he mentions a prolonged period only here./48/
Forty days in an inhospitable desert region justifies
characterizing this retreat as a "test." Mark would not
have to mention what happened during the interim, since mere
survival in such a setting would test anyone's wits and
fortune./49/ However, in Judaic culture any mention of
"forty days in the wilderness" invites traditional connotations.
So, reference to Jesus' prolonged absence from human contact in
a stock Semitic temporal idiom provided a logical stimulus to
interpret the initial report of Jesus' retreat in terms of
biblical stories of the wilderness. Q's hyperbolic
insistence that Jesus "ate nothing" and suggestion that he turn
"stone" into "bread" betrays an
attempt to portray Jesus' experience as a reflection of Moses'
(second) retreat to record the words of God in stone./50/
And these motifs in turn suggest citation of Deut 8:3b. Thus,
the evident trajectory in the oral evolution of the account of
Jesus' temptation was to increase the parallels to
scripture. The fact that the parallels are not perfect is a
clear sign that the report itself was not invented. So, Mark's
one line report is probably more primitive than Q's dramatic
Though Q's version of Jesus' temptation developed in a literate
Greek context---verbatim quotes from the LXX and use of
διάβολος instead of
Σατανᾶς make that fairly
obvious---, its logic is clearly that of Jewish midrash rather
than Hellenic myth. Midrash, however, presupposes a difficult
report that needs adequate explanation. Neither Q nor the
original author of its temptation dialogue was probably
dependent on the written text of Mark. But the pretext
for its description of Jesus' war of wits was at least an oral
report that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness confronting
"the adversary." This provides the only logical difficulty that
needed---and still needs---explanation.
(b) Trial period? Both Mark and Q make it sound
as if Jesus went into the desert deliberately to wage
spiritual conflict. "The spirit" leads him to confront "the
opponent" in a war of wits. Such spiritual dualism is a
hallmark of the mythic cosmology of Qumran. "The God of
Knowledge" was credited with preparing humankind to dominate a
world order in which he retained ultimate control. To train
people for their role God scheduled matches between "the
spirit of truth," which obeyed every divine command and "the
spirit of error" which disregarded God's regulations (1QS
3.15-20). Such determinism left no room for private
initiative, since the battle between spirits subject to the
powers of Light and Darkness was waged in every human heart (1QS
4.23). A person proved to be a "son of righteousness" (or
"light") or a "son of error" (or "darkness") by the type of
response to a community discipline regarded as "the wisdom of
the sons of Heaven" (1QS 4.22). Members were expected to obey
the Torah of Moses completely; those who violated any word were
subject to discipline or excommunication (1QS 8.21-24). Because
the world outside the community did not follow this code, it was
deemed to be under the dominion of Belial (1QS 1.18).
Therefore, the community responded to Isaiah's call to "prepare
the way into the wilderness" (Isa 40.3) by training people to
leave and live in isolation from a society in which the spirit
of Error ruled (1QS 9.20-21).
It is tempting to interpret the accounts of Jesus' wilderness
ordeal as an initiation into such a puritanical movement. The
report of Jesus' baptism by John, the initiation doctrine of the
early church, a few sayings ascribed to Jesus, and the rhetoric
of writings ascribed to Paul and John have too many parallels
to the spiritual dualism of the Dead Sea scrolls to deny the
impact of this type of ethical ideology on the evolution of
It is even probable that the author of the
oral report behind Mark 1:12-13 and parallels thought that
Jesus, like other humans, was a mere pawn in God's cosmic plan,
driven by one spirit into conflict with its opposite. But,
apart from a few passages in the fourth gospel, there is little
to indicate that Jesus or John thought this way.
There is even less justification for taking the temptation
narratives as recollection of the standard procedure for
inducting someone into the social movement around the Baptist.
The focus on spiritual separation at Qumran and in John's
preaching was to purge people from contact with spirits
that tempted people to disobey the Torah of Moses, not expose
them to danger from "the Opponent."/52/
A person's moral fiber
was tested before the water ritual of initiation into
such communities./53/ Moreover, there is no evidence that Jesus
returned to John after the testing period. And given Jesus'
reputation for not fasting, as John and his disciples
did, and associating with sinners it is doubtful that he ever
submitted to John's discipline./54/
In Q Jesus reminds his
fellow Jews that they followed John "into the wilderness"
(Matt 11:7//Luke 7:24), without including himself among them.
Like the fourth gospel, Q did not mention Jesus' baptism and
avoided any suggestion that he was initiated into John's
movement by citing sayings that radically contrast the two.
Only reading Mark (or Matthew) as history could create the
impression that Jesus was put through a spiritual ordeal as a
direct consequence of his baptism.
It is theoretically possible that Jesus left the Baptist's
movement and radically changed his lifestyle at some later
date. But then one would expect evidence of the ill-will and
ostracism that usually affects both sides in the case of a
defector. Instead, the gospels make Jesus the agent to promote
So it is hardly likely that the
report of Jesus' testing by "the Opponent" in the wilderness
originated as a mythic representation of conflict between him
and John. Nevertheless, since conflict is integral to the
structure of this scene it must be rooted in some
controversy involving Jesus.
2.3. Shield against Slander
The names used for Jesus' opponent in the Markan and Q versions
of his wilderness ordeal presuppose that he was subject to
attack by an enemy. "Satan" (challenger) and "devil"
(liar) are not primarily proper names, much less neutral
descriptions, of a particular persona. Rather, they are
characterizations---even caricatures---that one pins on an
opponent in situations that cause intense stress (e.g., Mark
8:33; John 6:70). So, the presence of "Satan" or "the
devil" is not a matter-of-fact observation by a casual
bystander. Rather, it is an intensely personal assessment of a
threat to one's well-being arising from almost anything: passing
thoughts, arguments, destructive behavior, cataclysmic events,
or a general existential malaise. In any case, the situation is
seen as not-self-initiated. By identifying the source as
"Satan" or "the devil," a person claims that something is not as
it ought to be. Things seem to have gone out of control or,
worse, to be controlled by an unfriendly force (at least for the
Jesus certainly experienced opposition and severe challenges on
many occasions. And it is more than likely that, as a
first-century Jew, he called the source of his distress "σατανᾶς"
or "διάβολος" more than once. Whether what he
encountered on such occasions was really Satan---as
personified in pious imaginations---is a question that
historical research cannot resolve. And whether Jesus himself
believed that a single malevolent spirit caused human
distress, cannot be demonstrated from his sayings. In fact, his
paradoxical affirmation of the immanent βασιλεία of a
benign Father in situations of deprivation that distressed
others virtually precludes the possibility that he
reported that "Satan" challenged him during a prolonged
trek through the wilderness./56/
Thus, the logical link that led a rather matter-of-fact report
that Jesus spent a long time in the wilderness to be interpreted
as an encounter with a malevolent and slanderous accuser
probably came from a challenger he met after his return
from his jaunt to join John. After all, events are put in
perspective by hindsight, so that an after-the-fact
interpretation is usually reported as what really happened.
(a) Home of beasts, madmen, and demons. The main
problem with symbolic interpretations of Jesus' forty day
stay in the wild is that they come from modern civilized
scholars with a romantic image of wilderness. In pre-modern
societies, however, wilderness represented real deprivation and
threats to life./57/ Human settlements were easily devastated
and reduced to the habitat of beasts. Travelers through open
spaces often fell prey to attacks by predators, human and
inhuman. Those who left the protection provided by town life
might be respected as hardy survivors. But they were just as apt
to be regarded as deranged: madmen who chose to expose
themselves to the dangers of wild animals rather than live with
their own families.
What led someone to choose such an uncivilized lifestyle? The
answer often given was "a demon." Philostratus tells of an
Indian woman who begs Apollonius of Tyana to free her son from a
demon./58/ When asked for evidence that he is possessed, she
begins by claiming that he had abandoned the routine of ordinary
civilized youth (school, sports, staying home) and was moved
to stay in "deserted spots" (τὰ ἔρημα τῶν χωρίων). Conversely, the story of the
wild man of Gerasa who lived out in the tombs ends with Jesus sending him back home (Mark
5:19). He obeys because he is now "being sensible" (σωφρονοῦντα;
In the Dionysiac cults of Thrace and Chios, the μαινάδες
(literally "mad" women) and βάκχοι ("drunken" males)
roamed the hills, clad in animal skins, in wild abandonment to
the impulses of the god of nature./59/
In the scheme of classic
Hellenic theology, Dionysus was not really a "god" (θεός)
but a "demon" (δαιμῶν), a sub-celestial force who was
more volatile than the Olympian immortals. So, the
characterization of his worshippers
as "god-filled" implied demon possession./60/
The social impact of the Dionysiac surrender to the call of the
wild was not restricted to its centers of origin. In fact, an
important shrine to Dionysus' demi-bestial colleague Pan was
located at the headwaters of the Jordan, near the northern
border of Galilee, in Caesaea Philippi (Banias in modern
Arabic). And Pan---or his devotees who roamed freely in goat-skins terrorizing town-dwellers---is the model for the
Judeo-Christian image of the devil as a horned, cloven-hoofed
promoter of licentious behavior.
(b) The critics' perspective. The point in
painting this pan-orama is not to suggest that Jesus was an
initiate into the Dionysian mysteries, but rather to show that
this is the background that makes sense out of
opposition to both Jesus and John the Baptist by city-dwelling
Mark and Q agree that John acted as a magnet drawing hordes
of people into the wilderness./61/
His dress was uncivilized
and his food wild./62/
Those who followed him regarded him as a
prophet, perhaps Elijah./63/
But most, if not all, of the urban
religious establishment--- priests and scholars, Sadducees and
Pharisees alike---apparently did not share that estimate./64/
Some, at least, claimed that John was not an agent of
religious renewal but of social chaos inspired by a δαιμῶν
(Matt 11:18//Luke 7:33)---Pan perhaps?
Descriptions of Jesus' life-style contrast sharply with that of
John. Yet he had some association with John and apparently
also spent a prolonged period away from home. There is no
evidence that he returned to family and job after his baptism.
Instead he probably remained a homeless wanderer accepting
lodging wherever and from whomever it was offered./65/
gained a reputation of carousing with sinners./66/
His lack of
concern about where the next meal was coming from made his
family think he'd gone mad./67/
And his total lack of
discrimination in what he ate and with whom he ate it was
interpreted as a sign of self-indulgence. Some, at least,
accused him of Dionysian excess: gluttony and drunkenness (Matt
11:19//Luke 7:34). To Jews concerned with chaste company and
meal regulations Jesus appeared to be a βάκχος---an
embodiment of libertine irresponsibility---and therefore a
threat to religious observance of the Torah. The inspiration
for such wild behavior, they concluded could not be the God of
Moses. So, Jesus' critics claimed, he too must be possessed by
an alien δαιμῶν---in fact, a demon worse than John's.
Because Jesus' lifestyle directly challenged the ordinary conservative Jewish values of
home and family, he was regarded as a threat to society itself.
He talked about letting God take control (βασιλεία τοῦ
θεοῦ). But the question was: which "god" is he talking
about? Conservative scholars and priests saw little to
distinguish the pattern of Jesus' behavior from wild cults of
the pagan nature gods, like the Canaanite Ba'al, that had often
weakened the fabric of an organized society based on rational
Torah observance. Hence,
the religious establishment became Jesus' chief accuser (σατανᾶς), spreading the
slander (διάβολη) that he was compelled to cast out
traditional values by the principle δαιμῶν: "Beel-zebul,"
whose current cultural mask happened to be Dionysus./68/
Dialectical logic. The fact that the gospels locate
Jesus' encounter with Satan in the wilderness and
report it before any public accusation against him is due
to debate logic rather than the actual order of events.
Narrative sequence is never a reliable indicator of historical
chronology, since people tend to present information in an order
that bolsters their own after-the-fact perspective. Oral memory
follows motif, rather than causal logic./69/
shuffle information for the optimum desired effect. In court,
the best strategy for the defense is to focus the jury's
attention on a favorable exhibit before reminding them of
the prosecution's argument. So, both Mark and Q anticipate the
actual slander that human accusers circulated about Jesus by
reporting his encounter with the archetypal Challenger first.
In both cases the narrator defending Jesus describes the scene
in terms designed to disarm the prosecutor's claim that Jesus'
behavior was inspired by alien influences. Mark shows
the reader Jesus being "cast out" into the wilderness by the
holy spirit he received in baptism by John who appeared in
direct fulfillment of sacred Hebrew scripture. Therefore, Mark's
audience is innoculated against accepting the claims of Jewish
scholars (3:22) that Jesus acted like devotees of a pagan δαιμῶν.
It is not Beelzebul but the voice of the God who
told Israel to "prepare the way into the wilderness" (Mark
1:3=Isa 40:3) that is seen "casting" both John and Jesus out
Mark 1:12-13 deliberately anticipates the language of the
Beelzebul controversy to prevent the accusations of Jesus'
opponents from being taken seriously. Jesus responds to these
charges by asking: "How can Satan cast out Satan?" (Mark
3:23). Mark illustrates the obvious conclusion of that riddle
with an enacted παραβολή in which "the (Holy) Spirit"
casts Jesus out "into the wilderness" to encounter
In Q's version the temptation scene's rhetorical links to the
exorcism idiom of the Beelzebul controversy have been replaced
by concern to show that Jesus knew the Torah and obeyed
the God of Moses better than any Jewish scholar. But the
question of the character of his charisma remains central to the
scene, since "the Slanderer" (διαβόλος) presents Jesus
opportunities to act out his human critics' accusations which he
turns down. He does not think only of his belly; he does not
exhibit self-destructive tendencies; he does not copy secular
rulers in submitting to impulses other than those of the one
supreme God./70/ In short, Jesus' behavior out in the wild, is
shown in sharp contrast to the lifestyle of a βάκχος.
So, Q prepares its audience to be skeptical of slander from
urban critics---children of the agora---that Jesus was a
"glutton and a drunk" (Matt 11:19//Luke 7:34). Q admits
that both Jesus and John were led "into the wilderness," but
interprets this as the behavior of prophets and sages---children
of wisdom (Luke 7:35)---not wild men who have lost their senses.
The reports of Jesus' temptations are not based on any reliable
recollection of what happened to him between his baptism
in the Jordan and his public reappearance in Galilee. But
neither are they "pure" fabrications. Rather, they are products
of the public debate generated by his abandonment of a settled
"civilized" lifestyle that began with his journey to
join John and continued after his return to Galilee. As
such, they are not without historical value. But they have to
be read backwards, holding them up to the mirror of Jesus'
opponents' attempts to defame him.
These facts are based on real events
and are, therefore, properly "historical":
(a) Jesus spent a long time as a homeless vagabond in "the wilderness";
(b) more than once he encountered an opponent who slandered his
behavior as alien and even demonic;
(c) he countered such "testing" with arguments that linked his
lifestyle to dependence on God;
(d) an anonymous partisan of Jesus---perhaps someone who also
left home to follow him---(con)fused these elements in reporting
that God sent Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by Satan or
Mark 1:12-13 and Q (Matt 4:1-11//Luke 4:1-13) preserve
independent versions of an oral tradition that is the logical
offspring of the Beelzebul controversy, which is certainly
rooted in the experience of Jesus himself.
Q's account of Jesus' three temptations is not autobiographical
and, therefore, is virtually worthless as evidence of Jesus' own
spiritual state. Mark's brief notice is a stylized explanation
of a period in which Jesus lived outside human settlements,
"with the beasts." Both accounts are important reflections of
challenges that Jesus and his followers faced from
flesh-and-blood adversaries. Both versions of the report of
Jesus' temptation are more rebuttal than fiction. So their
primary value is in interpreting the stress that his followers
felt by public slander of the one whom they regarded as a son of
the one true God.
3.3 Theses and Recommendations
1. The gospel temptation scenes recount Jesus' experience
"for 40 days in the wilderness"
Reason: no eye-witnesses or evidence of autobiographic report.
2. The gospel temptation scenes are the product of oral
debates about the source of Jesus' inspiration
Reason: story structure (Jesus encounters the Accuser or Slanderer);
Markan and Q versions independent and atypical of source.
3. Jesus lived outdoors "in the wilderness"
for at least one prolonged period:
Reason: independently attested by Mark, Q, and John
indirectly supported by various allusions to his lifestyle.
4. Jesus spoke of Satan:
Reason: rhetorical references in Beelzebul controversy and other sayings.
5. Jesus believed in a supernatural Satan:
Reason: no unambiguous statement; common view among
but inconsistent with genuine Jesus sayings about God's kingdom.
6. Jesus spoke with Satan:
Reason: mentioned only in mythic Q temptation scene;
not included in opponents' accusations.
Mark transliterates the Hebrew ha satan, indicating any
opponent who instigated a challenge (1 Kings 14:23; 1 Chron
21:1; Job 1-2) or charged another with offenses (Ps 109:4,6;
Zech 3:1). The other synoptics prefer the Greek word for
"attacker" that was generally used in cases of verbal abuse:
i.e., "slanderer." "Satan" entered the vocabulary of Jewish
theodicy to avoid attributing evil directly to God. But
Christian writers were largely responsible for making "devil"
(English corruption of diabolos) a synonym for evil
personified [e.g., Eph 4:11, 1 John 3:8-10, Rev 12:9,20:2].
E.g., a brief break in a Galilean Jew's Passover journey, after
an unexpected encounter with the Baptist (A. Schweitzer,
Quest, 350); a Jew's retreat to choose an appropriate course
of action for a post-baptismal obsession with messianic mission
(J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth,
253-4); a normal stage in the progress of a visionary newly
initiated into the "world of Spirit" (M. Borg, New Vision,
R. Bultmann favored myths of "Paradisal Man" or "temptations of
the saint" over nature myths about conflicts between cosmic
forces (History of the Synoptic Tradition, 253-4). Most
other scholars prefer paradigms from Israel's own past (see 1.1
Compare Mark 1:32-34,39; 2:13; 3:7-12; 4:1; 5:21; 6:53-56; 9:30;
Exod 3:1, 4:27, 5:1; 1 Kings 19:4; Mark 1:3-4, 11:32 (cf. Matt
Exod 24:18, 34:28; Deut 9:9-25, 10:10; 1 Kings 19:8.
Cf. 1 Kings 19:5-8. diakonein often carries connotations
of serving food in Christian writings [Matt 25:44; Luke 10:40,
12:37; Acts 6:2].
See especially Mark 6:14-29, 8:27-30, 9:2-13.
Mark 1:35,45 and 6:31-32. Lohmeyer noted this grammatical
difference, but (wrongly) interpreted it as a sign of a separate written
source for Mark's prologue (Marxsen, Mark, 31-32).
Cf. Mark 6:31-44. Mark goes out of his way to stress that at
first Jesus' "disciples" (i.e., the "twelve") did not
really understand this incident (8:17-21).
See note 4 above.
Jacob (= Israel; Gen 35:10) sent his sons to tend his flocks
(37:12) and fetch food (42:1-2). But such parallels are
inexact, since these stories stress that the twelve did not act
Mark 8:38, 13:26 and 14:62 clearly echo Dan 7:13; Gen 1:26-2:3
and Ps 8:4-6 provide less obvious precedent for Mark 2:10,
Gen 3:1-7,15. Christian texts equate the serpent with Satan
(Rev 12:9, 20:2); but Jewish haggada tended to see it only as
his agent (cf. Pokorny, "Temptation Stories," 121).
E.g., Dan 7, Rev 13-14.
It is John, not the synoptics, that sets Jesus' confrontation
with an agent of "Satan" (Judas) in a "garden" (cf. John 13:27,
18:1-2). Despite J. M. Robinson, Mark does not "parallel"
Testament of Levi 18:10-11: "And he shall open the gates of
paradise, and shall remove the threatening sword against Adam.
And he shall give to the saints to eat from the tree of life..."
(Problem of History, 27 n.1).
In Jewish legend, after expulsion from paradise the devil again
tempts Eve, while Adam is fasting for forty days.
But this is when both are up to their necks in water,
she in the Tigris and he in the Jordan (Life of Adam and Eve
6-11//Apocalypse of Moses 29). While this fantasy may
have been known to first century Jews, these are not
the "elements" of Mark 1:12-13 (despite Pokorny, "Temptation
If an OT source is needed for that observation, a better match
is to be found in Daniel's description of Nebuchadnezzar gone
mad (Dan 4:25,32). But Mark hardly intended that
A good modern example is T. E. Lawrence who won the admiration
of even the hardy Bedouin by traversing the Arabian desert. An
illustration of the risk in such a venture is found in the
tragic death of American Episcopal bishop James Pike on a visit
to the lower Jordan valley in quest of the historical Jesus.
J. Meagher, Clumsy Construction, 41 (italics mine).
C. Myers, Binding the Strongman, 91-136 and B.L. Mack, Myth of Innocence,
315-349 provide compelling if contrasting assessments of Mark's
intricate narrative web.
Cf. Mark 4:38-39, 6:48-50, 8:31-38, 13:9-13, 14:27-31.
Cf. especially Mark 12:22-24, but also 5:34, 7:29-30, 10:52.
Mark 1:12-13 has been described as "the rudiments of an
originally detailed legend" (Bultmann, History, 253); "an
enigmatic fragment of an early, otherwise unknown haggada" (Gerhardssen,
Testing,10); "a condensation of some...more
pointedly meaningful account of the event" (Meagher,
Clumsy Construction, 41); or an incident that was "already
firmly established in the tradition" of Jesus' baptism
before Mark (V. Taylor, St. Mark, 162-3).
Matt 4:4b,7b,10c//Luke 4:4b,12b,8b=Deut 8:3b,6:16,6:13 LXX.
B. Mack suggests overlaps between Mark and Q (like the
temptation?)are instances of intertextual "creative borrowing" in which Mark
has "resignified" the Q material ("Q and the Gospel of Mark,"
Mark 2:25-27, 7:6-13, 10:5-8,18-19, 11:17, 12:10-11,24-36.
Cf. Mark 8:33-34, 10:45, 12:28-30, 14:36.
E.g., Mark 8:10-12, 10:35-45.
Matt 4:3,5//Luke 4:3,9; cf. Mark 3:11, 5:7 as well as 1:10b and
J. Kloppenborg, Formation of Q, 256.
The temptation dialogue demonstrates "the trustworthiness of the
sage"(Kloppenborg, Formation, 327) only if the audience identified with
those "Moses" addresses in Deuteronomy. Cf. Matt 19:28//Luke 22:28-30.
Cf. Luke 11:26-28, 16:16-18//Matt 11:9-13, 5:18,32. The Lukan
version of these sayings is probably more original.
Compare quotes at the beginning of this study.
Luke's double reference to "the spirit," repetition of the same
preposition (ἐν) for two different functions (condition and
location) and participial clause are clumsy and meandering.
Compare Matthew's clear concise descriptions of action (using
εἰς for direction; ὑπὸ
for agent; and passive infinitive for purpose) and duration.
E.g., Mark 8:34//Matt 16:24//Luke 9:23. Cf. Gal 2:20, 3:27; Heb
2:10; 1 Pet 2:21-24.
John of Patmos, however, warns the church at Ephesus: "Don't
fear what you are going to suffer. See, the devil (διάβολος)
is going to throw some of you into jail so that you may be
tested. And you will have trouble for ten days" (Rev 2:10).
Cf. Rom 8:14-16; Gal 3:26-4:7.
Matt 5:45,48//Luke 6:35-36; Matt 6:9//Luke 11:2; Matt 6:32//Luke 12:30; Matt 7:11//Luke 11:13.
Matt 6:25-33, 7:7-11//Luke 12:22-31, 11:9-13.
Matt 7:9. The Q wording is questionable since Luke (11:12) has
"scorpion" and "egg" instead. Cf. Matt 4:3//Luke 4:3.
Matt 6:32-33//Luke 12:30-31. Cf. Matt 4:8//Luke 4:5.
Cf. Exod 16:3-4, 17:2-7, 32:1-8; Num 25:1-5.
Josephus (Antiquities 18.106-119), Mark (1:4-8, 6:14-29,
11:32), Q (Matt 11:2-11//Luke 7:18-28, 16:16) and Thomas (46:1)
independently confirm John's political prominence.
Cf. Jesus Seminar records for Oct 91. Agreement that Jesus was
baptized by John was distributed as follows: certain - 44%, probable - 40%, possible - 16%,
improbable - 0.
Mark (1:14, 2:18-19), Q (Matt 11:2-19//Luke 7:18-34) and John
(1:35-37, 3:22-26) presuppose Jesus' activity was distinct from
John's before the Baptist's execution.
See 1.1 (a), n.9 above.
Cf. Mark 1:35, 4:35-36, 6:31, 9:2, 14:32-35.
See 1.1 (c) (1) above.
Matt and Luke 4:2-3; cf. Exod 34:27-29, Deut 9:9-10. The
parallels are most obvious in Matthew's version.
Cf. Mark 1:3,9-11; Luke 16:8b; John 1:1-13, 8:12-47, 12:35-36,
16:7-15; Rom 8:14-16,26-30; 1 Cor 12:13; 2 Cor 6:14-15; Eph
5:6-11, 6:10-13; Col 1:12-13; 1 Thess 5:4-5; 1 John 1:5-7,
Cf. 1QS 1.1-11,3.5-12 and Matt 3:8-12//Luke 3:8-9,16-17.
So Josephus on John: "Even baptism appeared acceptable to him,
not to petition for some sin they had done, but for purifying
even as the soul had been previously cleansed by justice"
(Ant 18.117); and on the Essenes: "There is no immediate
initiation for those who are eager to join the party. Rather,
they...put him under discipline for one whole year while he
remains outside. And if during this examination period he gives
evidence of his self-control, they lead him nearer to their
discipline, letting him participate in cleaner waters for purification"
(Jewish War 2.137-138).
Cf. Mark 2:15-19, Matt 11:18-19//Luke 7:33-34.
Matt 11:9-11//Luke 7:26-28; Thom 46. The pseudo-Clementines
claim the Baptist's followers tried to exploit such sayings (Recognitions
1.60.1-4), but as friendly rivals.
The so-called "beatitudes" for instance pronounce the poor,
hungry and persecuted "blissful" (μακάριος; Luke
6:20-22//Thom 54,69). The great majority of the Jesus Seminar
accepted the first two formulae as genuine Jesus sayings and
thought that at least the central idea of the third could be
traced to him. Cf. also Matt 6:25-33//Luke 12:22-31.
E.g., Exod 14:11, 16:3; 2 Sam 17:29; Ezek 29:5; 2 Cor 11:26; Heb
Life of Apollonius 3.38 [See Fourth R 5,3 (May 1992): 11].
Oesterreich, Possession, 336-341; Nugent, Masks of
Cf. scholia of Euripides Hippolytus 144 (Oesterreich,
Mark 1:5 par; Matt 11:7//Luke 7:24.
Mark 1:6 par; Matt 11:18//Luke 7:33.
Mark 11:32, par; Matt 11:9-10//Luke 7:26-27; John 1:21. Cf. my
paper "Casting John as Prophet" presented to the Jesus Seminar,
Mark 11:30-33 par; John 1:19. The claims in Matt 3:7 and GEbion
3 that Pharisees and Sadducees sought baptism from John have to
be taken with a grain of salt, since Josephus (himself a priest
and a Pharisee) does not report a protest from the temple
hierarchy over Antipas' execution of John (Ant 18.117-119).
Matt 8:19-20//Luke 9:57-58//Thom 86; Luke 10:5-8//Thom 14:4.
Mark 2:16 par; Matt 11:19//Luke 7:34; Luke 15:1-2; pOxy 1224.3.
Mark 3:20-21. Cf. Matt 6:25-33, 7:7-11//Luke 11:9-13, 12:22-31
and Mark 6:31-39.
Mark 3:22//Matt 12:24//Luke 11:15. Nugent (Masks, 25)
notes the phenomenological parallel between the dance of
Dionysus and the masochistic frenzy of the Canaanite cult of
Mark's opening is a series of mental associations rather than
1:3-8: wilderness - John - baptism - strong successor -
1:9-13: Jesus - baptism - water/spirit - wilderness -
The devil's original offer in Q probably concerned only the
doxa--- i.e., the external appearance---of secular βασιλεία (Matt 4:8-9//Luke 4:5-6). The rulers of the Roman
cosmos were known for lavish self-indulgent lifestyles and
orgies like the bacchanalian revels. Luke's insertion of
ἐξουσια makes the temptation more a matter of political power.
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