051 Commentary

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This page forms part of the resources for 051 Into the Desert in the Jesus Database project of FaithFutures Foundation

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Crossan [Historical Jesus] (236-37) deals with this saying as part of his treatment of John the Baptist and Jesus. He begins by noting the complexity of the triple tradition: Q has the twin questions as well as the reference to Malachi 3:1; GThom has the twin questions, a different answer, and lacks the prophetic connection; while Mark 1:2-3 has the prophetic application but neither of the twin questions nor their different answers.

This leads Crossan to propose two originally independent units that have been merged in the Q tradition but can still be seen in Thomas and Mark:

(a) Questions and Answer about John

Thom 78
2Q: Luke 7:24-26 = Matt 11:7-9

(b) Applications of Mal 3:1 to John
2Q: Luke 7:27 = Matt 11:10

Mark 1:2-3 = Matt 3:3 = Luke 3:4-6 = (?) John 1:19-23

Crossan prefers the Q version of the Q&A concerning John over the form that survives in Thomas, as the latter has been generalized (by omitting John's name) to become a universal teaching. The form in Q can be understood as coming from the historical Jesus and being composed as an affirmation of John's enduring validity as "the Prophet of the Coming One." In the aftermath of John's execution, Jesus is affirming the significance of John by means of a contrast with the weak Antipas.

Such a reconstruction places Jesus firmly within the circle of John's followers, and implies that Jesus "must also have accepted John's apocalyptic expectation, and accepted John as the Prophet of the Coming One." Crossan notes that such a conclusion has to be balanced with the unit <a href="/index.php?title=085_Greater_Than_John&action=edit" class="new" title="085 Greater Than John">085 Greater Than John</a> (Thom 46; Q 7:28)

International Q Project

IQP reconstructs the original Q saying as follows:

And when they had left, he began to talk to the crowds about John: What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A person arrayed in finery? Look, those wearing finery are in kings' houses. But then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes. I tell you, even more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it has been written: Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your path in front of you.

Jesus Seminar

The views of the Seminar on this item can be represented as follows:

Thom 78:1-2
Thom 78:3
Luke 7:24b-25
Matt 11:7b-8
Luke 7:26-27
Matt 11:9-10

The Seminar distinguished between the portion of this saying that contrasts the austere prophetic lifestyle of John the Baptist with the luxury of the ruling class (given a borderline Pink vote) and the portion that speaks of John as the promised final prophet (given a Black). While the latter element has no parallel in GThomas, the earlier material seemed to be "authentic Jesus language" because of its scathing criticism of the powerful couched in lively figures of speech. [Five Gospels, 302]

Gerd Lüdemann

Lüdemann [Jesus] (304-306) concludes that this saying originated in the early Christian community and expresses a post-Easter perspective on the question as to whether Jesus really was the one to come at the end of time as announced by John the Baptist.

John P. Meier

Meier [Marginal Jew] (II, 137-44) has an extended treatment of the large block of "Baptist traditions" from Q (Luke 7:24-28 || Matt 11:7-11) of which this saying is a part. He accepts the saying as authentic:

... there are a number of arguments in favor of its representing a teaching of the historical Jesus. The absence of any christological concern, the total focus on and praise of John without limitations, the classification of John as a prophet and super-prophet without any use of categories lie forerunner of and witness to Jesus, indeed, the lack of any reference or allusion to Jesus at all, and the lively rhetorical tone that would fit well with the context of Jesus' preaching to the crowds, all recommend Matt 11:7-9 as authentic tradition coming from Jesus. (p. 139)

Gerd Theissen

Theissen in [The Shadow of the Galilean] has a popular treatment, and as a technical study in "Das 'schwankende Rohr' in Matt 11,7 und die Grundungsmünzsen von Tiberias." in [Lokalkolorit und Zeitgeschichte in den Evangelien] (NTOA, 8. 26-44) draws on numismatic evidence from Herod Antipas to suggest that the image of wind tossed reeds would have been understood as a reference to Antipas, whose vacillation was in marked contrast to the principled stance taken by the Baptist.