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Epilogue of Eysinga's Exegesis on the Gospel according to Matthew

Summary and translation by Klaus Schilling, October 20, 2004


Gustaaf Adolf van den Bergh van Eysinga's "Verklaring van het Evangelie naar Matthaeus" (1947).  Some of its results have been referenced in other works.

van Eysinga analyses parallels in the other synoptics, diverging manuscript evidences known back then, accuracy of OT references, and parallels outside Judaism.

I might do a summary pericope-by-pericope after having finished reading the Verklaring.

-- Klaus Schilling



This is an outline of the Epilogue of Gustaaf Adolf van den Bergh van Eysinga's book "Verklaring van het evangelie naar Matthaeus".

Church tradition since Irenaeus assigns the First Gospel to toll officer Matthew, also called Levi, using Mt 10:3, 9:9, Mk 2:14 . Eusebius III:39:16 traces this to Papias who said that Matthew had wrote down the sayings in Hebrew language, and everyone had then recounted them as well as possible. But it's straightforward to see that Matthew's Gospel may not be a translation of a Hebraic or Aramaic original, as figurable from hellenic puns (6:16, 21:41, 24:30, compare 6:7). Also the Septuagint is used.

The style of expression is that of artist prose, as figured by Feine-Behm in their NT Intro from 1936, in view of esp. 18:6, 22:4, 19:28, 6:7. A Palestine backwoods barbarian toll guard would impossibly have written this way. Like all other NT writings, this Gospel is a pseudo-epigraph.

The author may not belong to Israel, as seen from 9:26-31, 1:24, 27:33-46, 21:33, 23:29, 24:48, 27:58. Some passages are from the Hebrew Tanakh, such as 2:15, 8:17, 12:18ff, 27:9-10. This may hint to knowledge of the Hebrew language, but this is possible for a Diaspora Jew as well, and by no means a hint towards Palestinian origin. The usage of some Aramaic source is very likely. The author is well-educated and familiar with Stoic-Cynic way of thought, as proven from 5:2, 5:39, 5:47, 15:17. Also pagan mystery sagas e.g. Heracles are known to the author, as seen from  1:25, 12:40, 26:39.

One should not think that the Gospel material is a story of events of Israel at the begin of the common era, decorated and exaggerated, but it must be seen in some broader context. Loman, Boekenoogen, and van Loon already figured that the Euhemerism hypothesis is short. Thus van Loon determined the Gospel story to be a fantasy-based didactic form expressing the ideals of early Christianity, its core being crucifixion and resurrection. The theophanies of the Tanakh are imitated in the christophanies of the Gospels. Diaspora Jews were made familiar with mystery cults circling around a dying, suffering, and rising superhero. The strongest syncretism was in Alexandria.

Van Loon convincingly distinguishes two currents: the hellenising one that worshipped a supernatural Christ akin to pagan mystery cults, ending up in gnosis-theosophy, especially docetism and Aeon speculation, as opposed to the Jewish current who sees Jesus as the Messiah announced by the prophets of the Tanakh, in more and more euhemeristically exalted manner.

VdBvE agrees in essence with van Loon, but adds that the Jewish current is secondary, and thus the theosophic current is responsible for the origin of the Gospel genre. The Judaising current is secondary and brought in by the forming catholic movement which needed the support of the Tanakh as an antithesis to gnostic-theosophic [and hellenic philosophic] threats.  Thus the Original Gospel should have belonged to Alexandrine Gnostic Jews. Resurrection of the flesh was alien to this environment, and only added by the Roman i.e. Judaising movement much later. The ascetic character of Protochristianity was also destroyed this way.

In Gnostic theology, the God of the Jews is the creator of the world. Alexandrinian Gnostic Jews began to establish a different God above the world creator. This has been figured by M. Friedlaender.

The purely divine Jesus of the Oldest Gospel came in the likeness of man. Roman theology historised increasingly symbolic pictures, as seen in the official Creeds.

Thus Jesus must be seen not in a line with Zarathustra, Mani, Luther, Confucius, but with Demetria, Dionysios, Osiris, Attis, Mithras, and especially Heracles.

The Heracles link was especially promoted by F. Pfister who worked out many parallels between Heracles cult and early Christian writings. Also vdBvE himself wrote an article [that I've summarised in short manner - a more accurate one should follow some day].



The Old Testament served as a shining example for the Roman constructors of orthodox Christianity, whose work was the historisation of myths. For the Jewish religion was exemplary as a historising religion. Intentional historisation of myth was as such not alien to Romans: Livius mentions God Quirin as founder of Rome [other ex. : N. Lindsay pointed out that Iulius Caesar counted Venus among the origins of his bloodline]

The standard method of liberal theology [and secular life-of-Jesus research for that matter] is a quest for eliminating everything miraculous and anachronistic from the traded accounts, and leaving a bare-bones human Jesus, outstanding rabbi and apocalyptic prophet, that fits into the supposed framework of the backwoods of Palestina in the earliest common era.

Schweitzer pointed out that this messianic-apocalyptic Jesus of Nazareth who died for the sake of his cause has no historical foundation. It is a figure designed by rationalism, animated by liberalism, and put in a historical dress by modern theology. Van Eysinga adds that the non-miraculous stuff in the Gospels is no less ahistorical than the miraculous stuff. The Gospel is no more based on history than e.g. Euripides' works on Bacchus.

Bruno Bauer already noted correctly that the Gospels are nothing but dogmatic treatises in a narrative casing. The background is terribly fragmented and useless for determining a historical personality behind the scenes.

Paul's first Corinthians in 2:6 mentions that God's wisdom is to be expressed in the form of mysteries. Gnostics obviously realised this project in their writings. The Wisdom of Salomon, work of hellenised Jews of the Alexandrine diaspora, chimes in, albeit mixing in some apocalyptics.

The aim of the Gospels is thus not that of reporting life and works of some itinerant preacher or wisdom teacher, but of a supernatural being that expresses its divinity while in human shape. Stoics noted that the dying and resurrecting deity leads above life and death, and is more than the Zeus-like one who just happens to stand outside.

Whittacker correctly says that the Bible, like all holy literature, is not written for reporting historical facts, but for mediating religious inspiration to the greater community. Radical critics see more sense in the orthodox understanding of scripture than in the modern liberal one.

Mainstreamers wish to explain the formation of Christianity from the great personality of Jesus, his life, works, and teachings. The NT does not support this hypothesis, it even thoroughly defies it, as evident already in Matthew's.  According to 3:14, John the Baptist recognised Jesus as the Messiah even before the first signs and miracles in the following verses.

The desert dialogue of Jesus and Satan in the fourth chapter impossible serves as a witness for Jesus' personality. Jesus' impression on the fishermen later in the chapter is nowhere described. Their hour just has come, the divine call is irresistible, regardless of any personality. The healing stories play a similar tune. One may try to argue with mass suggestion and similar psycho stuff. The audience of the sermon on the mountain is astonished, but this is due to his supernatural power, not to his human qualities as the scribes of the Law do. Many other passages make no sense without Jesus being endowed with divine powers and demonstrating them.

The healing of Gadara in 8:34 even does not mention faith as a condition. It's Jesus' supernatural struggle with demons that is at the very centre of the pericope. If there's an allusion to faith, it's to faith in Jesus' supernatural or divine reality, as seen especially from the story about the hemorrhoidal woman in 9:22. Valentinians allegorically interpret the woman as Wisdom fallen, who is purified and saved by the son of God. The healing of the blind men around 9:30 dances to a similar tune.



This means that Jesus was not a historical figure that cured the sick in parapsychological manner, the accounts being exaggerated in euhemeristic manner, but it's the ecclesiastic picture of God's son humanified, as the Messiah announced by the prophets of the Tanakh, who had to practice thaumaturgy, see 11:2ff. Faith is meaningless in the case of the cure of atrophic limbs in 12:9ff. the miracles are a stage show, and placed on Saturday in order to upset the Pharisees. When the disciples fail in performing similar miracles, such as in 14:31, 17:20, they are reproached, but this 'lack of belief' seems to be much more a lack of magical powers.

The rejected guest in 22:12f is not a villain, but someone not part of the elected circle. In virtue of Galatians 3:27 it could be someone who is not dressed with the Christ, i.e. not baptised in the sense of Paul. 22:9 alludes to the rejection of elitism of certain sects. Jesus preaches love and forgivingness, but this collides with his treatment of Judas the traitor. This passage appears written for justifying catholic community discipline, where dissidents are subject to disgust and hatred, in stern contrast with Christian agape teachings.

Absurdly, it is mentioned that the deed of Judas is predestined and deemed necessary for the divine plan. On the other hand, Peter, who denies Jesus multiple times, is forgiven, and even cherished as the rock-solid foundation of the Christian community. It's also absurd that Jesus, preaching stern discipline, seems to forget about this once flattered by a reckless sinner who just happens to recognise him as the Messiah.

This alludes to the power of the sacraments of the institutionalised church, for whose justification those passages have been added. The church walls [metaphorically spoken] separate salvation found inside from the empire of demons on the outside. Matthews excessively mentions celestial reward and infernal penalty, e.g. 5:3, 12:22, 6:1, 10:28, 13:41f, 13:50, 18:8f, 25:30. The role of faith is here understood in catholic manner, as opposed to Pauline manner.

The preference of mythical origin over euhemerism is justified, not as much by the miraculous healings, who have been assigned to many itinerant preachers like Appolonius of Tyana, but by something different:

The Jesus of this gospel is not an ordinary or even extraordinary man. No man may name God as his father in the way expressed in 7:21, 10:32f, 12:50, 15:13. The angels are his slaves in 4:11, agreeing with the letter to the Hebrews in 1:44f, who exalts Jesus above all angels. Jesus is more than the kings in 12:42 and 22:41, and more than the temple in 12:5f. In 9:2ff he's got the power for forgiving sins. He comes in order to perfection the world in 5:21-48. He's going to be the judge of all of mankind in 25:31-46. His words are more persistent than heavens and earth, acc. to 24:35. John Baptist surrenders to Jesus without sensible reason. His birth is announced by angels ... [many examples skipped]

He who tries to assign all these examples to euhemeristic deformation by early Christian community should consider that the whole gospel becomes completely senseless and unmotivated when deleting these elements. Abraham D. Loman showed in "Symbol en Werkelijkheid in de Evangelische Geschiedenis" that Jesus of the Gospel is son of God, who came into life by direct divine impact, not bound by human restrictions and weakness like sin and mortality, and therefore being considered as master and saviour by supernatural means.

The Muratorium list around 190 [Jay Raskin says that it may be even later] explains that the gospels all explain the same thing about Jesus' birth, passion, resurrection, and interaction with his disciples. The mythical parts are integrating ingredients.

Jesus is the little Iahve in the third book of Henoch. The image of iahveh is displaced and spiritualised under gnostic-theosophic impact, as seen from 11:27, 19:17. Jesus appears as the epiphany of Iahve squeezed into a human lifetime. Jesus is also the Wisdom of God , according to 11:25, 14:24f, 23:37. Also Philo's Logos shines through in 27:17, 27:20. The coessentiality of Jesus and the Father is seen from 7:21ff, 8:4, 16:18, 24:50. Jesus the Son may bear the mystical and divine name "I am", according to 14:27, 24:5. His title "the Lord" bestows magical powers.

Other titles and predicates of the creator of the Tanakh are transferred and adapted to Jesus, as in 9:4, 24:36, 22:16, 8:25. Jesus is a celestial being of light and mystery god, according to 17:1, 17:5, 27:46, 7:20, 8:26, 11:29. He's not born of a woman, according to 11:11. The rites and sacraments are also projected into Jesus' earthly story, such as the baptism, eucharist, and sermons. The offices of the church are also justified. He stands outside Judaism in 19:8. He is the spirit in the sense of Paul acc. to 18:20, akin to II Cor. 3:17. He's the risen Lord travelling around in Israel in a quasi-historical manner, according to 9:23, 10:32, 14:27. The resurrection is seen as based on a cosmical picture in 27:52, 27:54



When observed well, the gospel reveals lots of symbolism (9:8, 9:22, 10:26, 14:26, 11:5, 13:19, 15:21, 16:12, 20:30, 21:13, 21:19, 21:21, 21:33) in historised fashion. This mighty and powerful god assumed human existence in order to redeem mankind from its tortures, performed powerful deeds and won the faith of the observants. The soteriological thought is expressed in a narrative form in the life and works of Jesus. It was not Jesus who founded Christianity, but Christianity who step by step formed the picture of Jesus.

Catholic doctrine combined Jewish-messianic apocalyptics with Gnostic cult based on a Son of God. Jesus is the Messiah, represented in flesh and bone, but the full messianic glory is still to be expected for the forthcoming end of times. The fleshly resurrection of the Jesus, according to Jewish tradition, warrants the resurrection of the believer at the latter day. Lublinksi correctly considered the designed life of Jesus as representation of catholic dogmatics.

The historisation of the symbol of the Christ was essential for opening Christian belief to the broad masses, as opposed to the elite mysticism of the Gnostic cults. Thus in Rome the process was completed that started in Alexandria. The celestial man of Paul is turned as much as possible into a historical person. This historisation also distinguished the Christian church from hellenic mystery cult. The major tool was the adoption of Jewish Scripture which allowed for a realistic picture of the Christ, away from the phantasmatic picture of Gnosis.

Many scholars see Matthew's gospel as based on Judeochristianity, but this is not correct in the usual understanding. Bruno Bauer correctly noted that its Jewish character is not to proper Jewish roots, but to Roman ones: Positivism and legalism were as much a trait of Jewish and of Roman thought, and the absorption of the Tanakh provided for the essential ingredients for forming a durable organisation and church discipline.

Matthew's gospel orders ecclesiatic discipline. A developed catholic church organisation which seeks to consolidate itself through this gospel we may infer from 16:17f, 18:15-18. The struggle with heresies is seen from 13:24ff. The Roman church is represented by the expected reign of God on earth (3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 13:43, 26:29). Jesus is designed as the proper king of Israel, who is rejected by the folk. This is construed as a justification for stealing the promise made in the Tanakh to the folk of Israel and transfer it to the Catholic church (21:43).

The repentance for sinners is ruled in 21:28. In the sermon on the mountain Jesus appears as the new lawgiver who relativizes the traditional Jewish Law (5:22f, 28:16, 28:20) . The anti-Jewish character of the catholic church is also expressed in 3:11, 8:5, 15:28, 16:22, 27:19. The church members are seen as the proper generation of Abraham. Paulinic thought is partially absorbed, despite its heretical character, in e.g. 15:11, 15:13, 19:21, 19:26, 19:30.

Peter and Paul appear reconciled, where of course Paul is dressed in a manner suitable for the church. Jewish elements are just spun off. Jewish hierarchy is adopted in some sense, as seen from 17:24ff, 6:16ff, 24:20, 5:23f. Sabbath, fasting, temple taxes are venerated.  The original gospels, revolutionary in their essence, just used the Tanakh for loaning symbolic pictures, not for doctrinal purpose.

Matthew's Gospel teaches thoroughly in the catholic sense. It reconciles Jewish and heathen traditions to some point. Pagan mages are revering the coming Messiah of Jewish tradition. It insists in Davidic bloodline in 1:1, but makes this irrelevant in 22:41ff. The Temple is venerated, but the letter of the Law is relativated for a more humanist/universalist moral. Christianity appears as autonomous in 9:16f. The typical double moral of the Catholic church is justified by 19:12, 19:21. 



Jerusalem is already deserted (22:7) and the story is known since long time (28:15). The gospel is hardly datable before mid second century.

The emphasis is on Jesus' preaching (8:18), The didactic sermons are arranged in 5 groups, akin to the Pentateuch. Each group ends with something like "and it happened, as Jesus had completed ..." (7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1) . Peculiarly, many people in the gospel speak or think like Christian theologians e.g. Joseph in 1:19, John B. in 3:11, the High Priests in 27:42 ...

The most relevant and deeply religious constituents of the gospel are: the gnostic idea of the celestial man, coming in order to redeem man from the world, then the cynic-stoic ideals that have been, albeit germinally present already in gnostic thinking, expanded and improved by catholic theology. The Lord appears humane especially because he preaches (8:18), alas these are the sermons formed by the catholic church that are retrojected into the hero's life for purposes of didactics of dogmas. The mentality of the author is best described as that of free piety.

The significance of the books of the bible, including Matthew's gospel, is not as much to be sought in what they meant originally, but in their reception throughout the ages since then. In consequence, van Eysinga makes some proposals about how to use scripture reasonably today [beyond the scope of our group, thus skipped]



Keeping this epilogue in mind, the Verklaring itself will be summarised pericope by pericope whenever a particular passage of Matthew's or its parallels in other early Christian writings, especially of course Mark's and Luke's, arises in the Jesus Mysteries discussion group.

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