oa Conspectus : The Journal of the South African Theological Seminary - What did you go out to see? A demon crazed ascetic?
Light on Matthew 11:7b from an Aramaic reconstruction



In Matthew 11:7, Jesus asks the crowd a question concerning John the Baptist : what did you go out into the wilderness to see; a reed shaken by the wind? There is a depth to this question which has remained unexplored. Far from being a poetic image meant to convey something prosaic, this question probably alludes to an actual term of contempt used by the enemies of John. A proposed Aramaic reconstruction reveals not only the pun behind this, but may also allows exegetes a greater glimpse at the way Jesus uses this image to force the crowd to acknowledge him as Messiah.

The story starts in Matthew 11:1-6, when the disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus with a question from their master, who was at that time in prison. They ask on his behalf: Jesus sends them back to John suggesting that the signs and wonders performed provided the self-evident answer. It isn't that these displays of miraculous power in themselves proved anything. Jesus is claiming that his ministry is the fulfillment of messianic prophecy. The list Jesus gives is an allusion to a conflated version of Isaiah 61:1-2, which seems to have encapsulated the messianic expectations of the time.


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