JESUS TELLS A LIE

In an earlier posting (see https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/prepolovenie/) we looked at icons of the “Middle” — the church commemoration that stands between Easter and Pentecost — and we saw that they are of two types.  One shows Jesus as a twelve year old boy, seated amid the learned men in the Jerusalem Temple — the event called in Western art “Jesus Among the Doctors,” recorded in Luke 2:41-49.

The other icon depicts a different incident — Jesus as an adult, preaching in the Temple, as described in John 7.

Here is a 14th century fresco from the Vysokie Dechani monastery in Serbia, showing the first type.  It is interesting not only because of its iconography, but also because of its unexpected inscription:

We might expect to find as its inscription a conventional title telling what is happening in a scene, as in this 16th century fresco from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos:

The Greek title of the image reads:

Ὁ Χ[ΡΙCΤΟ]C ΔΙΔΑCΚΩΝ ΕΝ ΤΩ ἹΕ[ΡΩ]
HO KHRISTOS DIDASKON EN TO HIERO
“CHRIST TEACHING IN THE TEMPLE.”

Some Greek icons of the type are titled simply:

Ἡ ΜΕCΟΠΕΝΤΗΚΟCΤΗ
HE MESOPENTEKOSTE
“[The] MID-PENTECOST”

On the Dechani fresco, however, we find this inscription:

It is neither a scene description nor a conventional title, and though the image depicts a New Testament scene, it is not an excerpt from the New Testament.  Instead, it is a slight variation on Kontakion 8 from the Akathist to Mary:

Кондак 8
Странное рождество видевше, устранимся мира, ум на небеса преложше: сего бо ради высокий Бог на земли явися смиренный человек, хотяй привлещи к высоте Тому вопиющия: Аллилуиа.

Strannoe rozhdestvo videvshe, ustranimsya mira, um na nebesa prelozhshe: sego
bo radi vuiskiy Bog na zemli yavisya smirennuiy chelovek, Khotyay privleshchi k
vuisote Tomy vopiiushchiya: Alliluia

Kontakion 8
Seeing a strange childbirth, let us estrange ourselves from the world by transporting our minds to Heaven; for this sake the Most High God appeared on earth a lowly man, that He might draw to the heights those who cry out to Him: Alleluia.”

Now as I mentioned, there is another Prepolovenie/”Middle”/Mesopentekoste/Mid-Pentecost icon type — Jesus teaching in the Temple as an adult.  Here is a 14th century variant example from Vysokie Dechani:

It has an interesting added detail.  Jesus holds a large pitcher of water as he stands among those in the Temple.  We find out why if we look at the inscription above his head:

АЩЕ КТО ЖАЖДЕТЪ ДА ПРIИДЕТЪ КО МНЕ И ПИIЕТЪ
ASHCHE KTO ZHAZHDET DA PRIIDET KO MNE I PIET
Whoever thirsts, [let him] come to me and drink.

It is taken from John 7:37:
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirsts, let him come to me, and drink.

The “feast” mentioned is the Jewish Festival of Booths — Sukkot — which takes place in the autumn.  The odd thing about the speech of Jesus in the Temple on that feast is that if one took him at his word, he was not supposed to be there at all.

Earlier, his brothers had told him in Galilee that he should go to Judea and demonstrate his works in public, meaning at the festival.

Jesus, however, replies (John 7:6-9):
“‘My time is not yet come: but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you; but it hates me, because I testify of it, that the works of it are evil.  You go up to this feast.  I will not go up to this feast, for my time is not yet fully come.’  When he had said these words to them, he remained in Galilee.”

That is followed in John 7:10 by:
But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.

In other words, Jesus told a lie.  He said he was not going to the feast, but later he did go “as it were in secret.”

This text, of course, has bothered a lot of people over the centuries, who do not at all like the idea of Jesus having lied, and in fact it seems to have resulted in someone at some time correcting the problem.  We have early evidence of this.  In Papyrus 66, a manuscript dated variously from the 2nd to the 4th century, we find that change.  Instead of Jesus saying “I will not go up to this feast,” it instead changes the Greek word ουκ, meaning “not,” to οὔπω/oupo, which means “not yet,”  resulting in Jesus saying “I will not yet go up to this feast.” By doing so, Jesus no longer lies to his brothers; he just tells them that he will go up to the feast later, after they have gone.

It is a clever change, but it does not seem to be the original reading.  The point of the exchange appears to be that Jesus does not want his brothers to know he is going at all, because when he does go, it is “as it were in secret.”

In Greek it is the difference between:

ἐγὼ οὐκ ἀναβαίνω εἰς τὴν ἑορτὴν ταύτην
ego ouk anabaino eis ten heorten tauten
“I go not up to this feast”

and

ἐγὼ οὔπω ἀναβαίνω εἰς τὴν ἑορτὴν ταύτην
ego oupo anabaino eis ten heorten tauten
“I go not-yet up to this feast.”

It looks, in fact, as though the “not yet” was borrowed from the latter part of the whole sentence from which this excerpt is taken:

ὑμεῖς ἀνάβητε εἰς τὴν ἑορτήν· ἐγὼ οὐκ ἀναβαίνω εἰς τὴν ἑορτὴν ταύτην, ὅτι ὁ ἐμὸς καιρὸς οὔπω πεπλήρωται
humeis anabete eis ten heorten. ego ouk anabaino eis ten heorten tauten, hoti ho emos kairos oupo peplerotai.
“You go up to this feast.  I go not up to this feast, for my time is not yet complete/fulfilled.”

So which was the original reading, “I go not” or “I go not yet”?  The manuscript evidence is divided, with some copies going with “not” and others with “not yet.”  Modern scholars tend to favor the former interpretation, which results in Jesus having told a lie, given that it not only better fits the sense of the text, but also because it is unlikely that an early editor would have changed “I am not yet going up to this feast” to the more embarrassing “Jesus lies” reading, “I am not going up to this feast.”  Conservatives of course prefer the option that saves Jesus from having lied.

It is interesting that the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry (c. 234-305), who opposed Christianity, knew the “I am not going up to this feast” reading, because as quoted by Jerome, he used it against the Christians of his time — another good reason for Christian editors to prefer the “not yet” reading when copying the text.

 

 

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