Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The cursing of the fig tree

Ted said:

“…if he started cursing a tree for failing to produce fruit, wouldn't you say? Or, is that an example of rational behavior in your view?”

Ted is alluding to Mt 21:18-22 (par. Mk 11:12-14).

Yes, I regard this as an example of rational behavior.

And I also regard Ted’s reaction as an example of irrational behavior.

Unbelievers like Ted dismiss the Bible as Bronze Age or Iron Age literature. But then, as a practical matter, they act as if it were addressed to 21C Americans.

They use their own contemporary culture as the hermeneutical prism through which they interpret the Bible.

Now, a rational student of the Bible, even if he didn’t believe in the Bible, would at least make a minimal effort to understand 1C Palestinian horticulture as well as the cultural code language of the audience when he came to the cursing of the fig tree.

For example, Craig Keener makes the following observation:

“At Passover season in late March or early April, fig trees are often in leaf on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. At this time of year, such fig trees contained only green early figs (Arabs call them taqsh), which ripen around June but often drop off before that time, leaving only green leaves on the tree…A leafy tree lacking such early figs, however, would bear no figs at all that year,” A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 1999), 504.

Notice the minute accuracy of the Synoptic account, both in time and place, viz. Nisan, the eastern side of Mt. Olivet, the two-stage fruitage of fig trees.

BTW, this favors the early dating of Matthew and Mark—or, at the very least, reliance on primitive tradition—well before the fall of Jerusalem, when the knowledge of these horticultural details would be lost.

Moreover, the cursing of the fig tree consolidates several OT motives:

1.Punitive or imprecatory miracles. A paradigm case would be the Plagues of Egypt—among other examples (e.g. Exod 14:23-31; 1 Kgs 13:1-5; 2 Kgs 1:9-12; 2:23-24; 5:27; 2 Chron 26:16-21).

2.The figurative use of fig trees as eschatological emblems in oracles of judgment (cf. Isa 5:1-7; 34:4; Jer 8:13; 24:1-10; 29:17; Hos 2:12; 9:10,16-17; Joel 1:7; Mi 7:1).

3.Enacted parables (Isa 20:1-6; Jer 13:1-11; 19:1-13; Ezk 4:1-13).

4.The spiritual significance of fruitage owing to the feast of Pentecost.

Furthermore, it also draws together several Synoptic threads:

1.Spiritual fruitfulness, or the lack thereof (Mt 3:10; 7:19).

2.Covenantal maledictions (Mt 23).

3. Parables of eschatological judgment (Mt 25).

4.The Lucan parable of the vineyard (Lk 13:6-9).

Therefore, our Lord’s action would have triggered a number of significant associations in the mind of his Jewish audience.

But if, like Ted, you get your exegesis from Bertrand Russell or the Skeptics Annotated Bible, then, of course, it will be irrational. One ignoramus learning from another.

26 comments:

  1. It would be nice if Todd stuck to this issue to see it through, and didn't move on to some other issue he has never studied.

    But, what we have see so far, this isn't going to happen. NEXT!

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  2. Speaking of the SAB, the editor of the SAB has a blog up about how many people God killed in the Bible, and another comparing God's confirmed kills to the devil's. Interesting read.

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  3. Nah, I'm with Jesus on this one. I cursed my grocer for failing to carry strawberries. Completely ruined the daiquiri party I was supposed to have. The next day a tornado came and wiped it out.
    Now THAT'S a fitting punishment, don't ya think?

    - Todd

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  4. "Speaking of the SAB, the editor of the SAB has a blog up about how many people God killed in the Bible..."

    As if they didn't deserve it. As if we all don't deserve it (Romans 6:23).

    Second, this is a complete subjective value judgment.

    Would you atheists please come up with something half-way intellectual.

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  5. As if they didn't deserve it. As if we all don't deserve it (Romans 6:23).

    Ah yes...the "everyone deserves to be killed by the psychotic, bronze age, serial killing deity"...


    Would you atheists please come up with something half-way intellectual.

    I'd rather curse a fig tree instead...

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  6. BTW: Daniel,

    Now that you know that God sends evil (though not sin) upon people, will you dump the worn-out "problem of evil" argument?

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  7. Now that you know that God sends evil (though not sin) upon people, will you dump the worn-out "problem of evil" argument?


    I guess now that you've admitted your god is evil, he'll have to!

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  8. Evil can refer, old man, to bad things happening to people. Like the time I broke my finger, or the time my dog died.

    Now, maybe you can calm down and we can talk like gentlemen?

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  9. Steve: "Unbelievers like Ted dismiss the Bible as Bronze Age or Iron Age literature. But then, as a practical matter, they act as if it were addressed to 21C Americans."

    Ah, okay, thanks for the clarification. The bible's not addressing me. Therefore it's message is not directed to me. Hence, I don't need to take it seriously.

    Thank you, Steve.

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  10. Ah, okay, thanks for the clarification. The bible's not addressing me. Therefore it's message is not directed to me. Hence, I don't need to take it seriously.

    Of course this logic is not applied by you to other documents from antiquity.

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  11. Ted, the US Constitution was not addressed to you personally, but to 18th Century Americans (1789, if memory serves, but correct me if I'm wrong). The Amendment banning slavery was addressed to nineteenth century Americans.

    But just try not taking that one seriously. Like the law relating to murder.

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  12. Gene: "Of course this logic is not applied by you to other documents from antiquity."

    How do you know what I apply and don't apply? I apply the same logic to the Talgeth-hidet. It was not addressed to me, so I do not take its teachings seriously either.

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  13. hiraeth: "Ted, the US Constitution was not addressed to you personally, but to 18th Century Americans (1789, if memory serves, but correct me if I'm wrong). The Amendment banning slavery was addressed to nineteenth century Americans."

    I'm not sure what this is supposed to prove. Perhaps you're assuming I'm a US citizen. But you assume too much.

    Next:

    "But just try not taking that one seriously. Like the law relating to murder."

    Again, not sure what you're trying to prove. Steve insinuated that the bible was not addressed to me. I agreed with him. Is your beef with him? Or, are you just sore that I don't take the bible seriously? Do you have an argument for why I should? I've not seen one yet on this website.

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  14. Rugged Constitutionalist8/15/2006 8:04 PM

    the US Constitution was not addressed to you personally, but to 18th Century Americans

    Learn your history. The US Constitution nowhere limits its address to 18th century Americans. The opening words of the Preamble are inclusive by design and intent: "We the people of the United States..." They can be spoken today just as they were 219 years ago (less about a month) and still carry the same import.

    Likewise the 14th Amendment in no way limits its address to 19th century Americans. This is clear from Section 1 which begins with the words "All persons born or naturalized in the United States..." So it applies as long as the USA is a nation.

    You might want to do a little more research before broadcasting your ignorance like this.

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  15. Steve, when you write "Therefore, our Lord’s action would have triggered a number of significant associations in the mind of his Jewish audience," is this supposed to be a conclusion that somehow (however tenuously you have derived it) supposed to support your opinion that Jesus cursing a barren fig tree was a rational action? What exactly did it accomplish, and couldn't the same end have been accomplished without cursing a tree which does not choose whether it is fecund or barren?

    This site gets more bizarre every time I surf in.

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  16. Although a couple of other commenters have already made this point, since Ted is slow on the uptake, I'll reinforce it:

    The Federal law code isn't addressed to me personally, but this hardly means that it's inapplicable to me personally.

    If Ted still fails to appreciate this distinction, I'd suggest that he break a few Federal laws and wait for the Feds to explain it to him.

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  17. Caleb,

    You need to read the passage in context. Jesus is setting up an analogy between the literally fruitless condition of the fig tree and the spiritually fruitless condition of Israel, represented by the Temple.

    And since the fig tree is an inanimate object, it's not as if Jesus did the tree an injustice by cursing it for emblematic purposes.

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  18. So, is the bible addressed to me, or isn't it? Is it addressed to people living in the 21st century, or not? Why not take a position and stick with it? Are you afraid to take back what you stated in your blog?

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  19. "Jesus is setting up an analogy between the literally fruitless condition of the fig tree and the spiritually fruitless condition of Israel, represented by the Temple."

    So, the tree's fruitless ccondition is unchosen, and likewise so is the spiritual condition of the people of Israel?

    Teach us more, uncle Steve!

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  20. And since the fig tree is an inanimate object, it's not as if Jesus did the tree an injustice by cursing it for emblematic purposes.

    Plants are not inanimate objects. They are living organisms. But someone who despises science might not understand this.

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  21. I suppose getting all worked up about a dead fig tree makes sense in a worldview in which humans are admitted to be really no different than broccoli.

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  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  23. Plants are not inanimate objects. They are living organisms. But someone who despises science might not understand this.

    So, we are to understand that plants are people, too, and Jesus was being an irrational bully against a poor, fruitless fig tree? Jesus cursed the fig tree to make a pedagogical point (like the fruitless fig tree, God will curse the spiritually fruitless people of Israel). What's irrational is being so offended by His action. High school students do "worse" things to living organisms in biology class than Jesus did here.

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  24. Ted. The Bible is addressed to you. However, it is not addressed to you exclusively.

    God inspired His Word for the benefit of the World, not for the sole benefit of a bloke called Ted.

    Does that help?

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  25. Oh, and what we did in biology classes (or when I cleared the family field) was far worse. Ditto when I got hungry and dug a few potatoes.

    When I was doing the field with a ride-on mower, I ran over a nesting Pheasant.

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  26. Kyle: "So, we are to understand that plants are people, too, and Jesus was being an irrational bully against a poor, fruitless fig tree?"

    It was pointed out that fig trees are in fact not inanimate objects, but are living organisms. This in no way equates plants with human beings. But if the story about Jesus cursing a fig tree is supposed to be pedagogical as Kyle and others have claimed, then they in fact are the ones who are putting people on the same level as plants. Jesus was irrational for cursing a thing for something over which it had no control. It's even more absurd when you factor in the claim that Jesus is God and God is in control of everything. On this view, the tree could only be barren if Jesus (as God) had designed it to be barren. Logically, Jesus/God is cursing his own handiwork. In the case of a man who can grow and later recognize the foolishness of his earlier devices, this could in fact be rational. But in the case of a being said to be omniscient and infallible, it's so absurd that it would be more comfortable to crawl under the rock of Christian stubbornness than to face it.

    Kyle: "What's irrational is being so offended by His action."

    For one, who is "offended" here? I don't see that anyone has stated that he or she is "offended." Also, why would it be irrational to be offended by something so absurd, especially if it is postured as being rational?

    Kyle: "High school students do 'worse' things to living organisms in biology class than Jesus did here."

    Again, I don't think anyone had stated that killing a tree is wrong. It was merely pointed out that a tree is, contrary to what Steve had stated, not an inanimate object. It's amazing how Christians infer nonsense from simple facts.

    hiraeth: "Ted. The Bible is addressed to you."

    Steve insinuated that unbelievers are mistaken for acting "as if [the Bible] were addressed to 21C Americans." Here hiraeth affirms that the bible was addressed to someone living in the 21st century. Who is right? Steve and hiraeth need to fight this one out between them.

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