Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Righteous Bloodshed, Matthew's Passion Narrative, and the Temple's Destruction: Lamentations as a Matthean Intertext

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Righteous Bloodshed, Matthew's Passion Narrative, and the Temple's Destruction: Lamentations as a Matthean Intertext

Article excerpt

(ProQuest Information and Learning: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

Jesus' so-called cry of dereliction in Matt 27:46 serves as the climactic finale for a series of clear allusions to and citations of Psalm 22 in Matthews passion narrative. This psalm's extensive presence throughout Matthews depiction of the crucifixion often leads scholars to conclude that Matthew's use of the phrase "wagging the head" in 27:39 also derives from Psalm 22 (v. 7). Yet this same derisive idiom occurs at several other points in Jewish Scripture,1 most notably in Lam 2:15, a verse that contains language remarkably similar to Matt 27:39. While many commentators note the resemblance between Matthew and Lamentations at this point,2 demonstrating an allusion to Lamentations here has proven elusive. Relatively few scholars posit any actual influence from Lamentations, and even fewer have attempted to explore the implications of such an allusion.3

In this article I will argue that Matt 27:39 does in fact allude to Lam 2:15.4 I hope to show, moreover, that Matthew explicitly draws on Lamentations in his account of the events leading up to the crucifixion in order to portray Jesus' death as the primary act of righteous bloodshed by the hands of the religious authorities in Jerusalem that results in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. To see this, it will be necessary to demonstrate the way in which Matthew employs Lamentations as an important and relatively pervasive intertext5 in his depiction of Jesus' lament over Jerusalem, trial, and passion (especially in chs. 23 and 27). If it can be shown that Matthew utilizes Lamentations in this way, then this observation suggests first that the textual variants in Matt 27:4 and 27:24 in which various manuscripts apply the adjective ... ("righteous") to Jesus need to be reassessed. Second, and more importantly, recognizing Matthew's use of Lamentations in passages related to and including his passion narrative calls into question the commonly held view that these portions of Matthew represent early Christian anti-Judaism and further corroborates the work of those who have cautioned against jumping too quickly to such an interpretation.6 Rather than anti-Judaism, Matthew's appeal to Lamentations and thus also to Jeremiah to explain the link between the temple's destruction and Jesus' crucifixion is better characterized as an instance of intra-Jewish polemic deliberately modeled on the prophetic tradition in Jewish Scripture.7


If Lamentations formed a significant part of the "cultural framework" or "encyclopedia"8 for the Jewish community during the time that Matthew penned his gospel, then the likelihood increases that Matthew-and those to whom he wrote-could have known this text well enough for meaningful allusions to the book to be recognized and understood. Since Matthew probably wrote his Gospel for Jewish Christians after the momentous events of 70 c.E.,9 there is good reason to think that Lamentations would have been a prominent part of the "encyclopedia" of Matthew's community. After the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E., one would expect mourning Jews to turn to Lamentations with renewed interest. It would likely be in the religious cultural "air."10

Two observations support this expectation. First, Josephus provides evidence that after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, people connected that event with the writings of Jeremiah. In his Jewish Antiquities (10.79), Josephus writes of Jeremiah,


This prophet also publicly proclaimed the sufferings to come to the city [Jerusalem], by leaving behind in writings both the capture [of Jerusalem] that has come about in our time, and the taking [of it] by Babylon. (My translation)

Josephus probably refers here to the book of Lamentations.11 Yet even if his reference looks more generally to the corpus of Jeremiah, this comment clearly establishes that links were being made between Jeremiah/the first destruction of Jerusalem and the second destruction in 70 C. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.