The Mythical Interpretation of the Gospels: Critical Studies in the Historic Narratives

By Thomas James Thorburn | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE TEMPTATION

The Temptation of Jesus

IT will be fitting to commence our study of the temptation with the view of it which was taken by "the father of modern mythical criticism," D. F. Strauss. His explanation of the matter, which at least has the merits of sanity and moderation, takes the following form ( Leben Jesu, 1835, English translation, II, sec. 54, pp. 84-87).

The first temptation of Jesus in both of the fuller synoptic accounts was, he notes, that of hunger. This was predetermined for the early Christian imagination by two facts well known to them. "The people of Israel had been particularly tried by hunger in the desert." And, "in the same way, among the different temptations to which, according to the rabbis, Abraham was exposed, hunger is enumerated." There are, however, he admits, many other examples of voluntary abstinence from food in the Old Testament, so that it is by no means clear why the example of Israel, or even of Moses, should be so suggestive to the early Christian mind. "But," Strauss continues, "one temptation was not sufficient; according to the rabbis, Abraham was subjected to ten." This number, he thinks, was too many for a dramatic exposition such as we have in the two longer Gospel records. A smaller number must be selected if a real effect were to be produced. And, if so, that number would surely be the sacred number three. That number, indeed, frequently recurs in various connexions in the Gospels: thus, three times does Jesus withdraw to pray

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