Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've read that Zechariah prophesied that the King of Zion would enter the city on a donkey with another donkey in tow. But the passage seems to indicate just one animal to me:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

—Zechariah 9:9 (ESV)

It seems that the author of Matthew assumed it was a donkey and a colt:

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, [paraphrase of Zechariah 9:9]—Matthew 21:1-4 (ESV)

In the English at least, I can't see how either the original passage in Zechariah or its paraphrase in Matthew require there to be two animals. Am I missing something?

share|improve this question
    
Possible related to: The number two in the book of Zechariah and certainly related to: Why does Matthew double people? –  Jon Ericson Dec 6 '12 at 0:46
    
I found this article. I can't say I'm sold, but it's a decent read. See what you think of it. tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/… –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Dec 6 '12 at 10:00
add comment

3 Answers 3

The Hebrew for the phrase is:

וְרֹכֵב עַל-חֲמוֹר, וְעַל-עַיִר בֶּן-אֲתֹנוֹת.

NJPS translates this as:

and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass.

Some translations have "an ass and a colt". The Hebrew isn't clear about the number of animals.

The word גַּם means "also" in biblical Hebrew. We see it, for example, in Genesis 33, when Yaakov's family approaches Eisav in waves -- the concubines and their children, and also Leah and her children (and then Rachel and Yosef -- it says "then" rather than "also" there). While arguments from omission are very weak, I bring this up to point out that גַּם does not appear in this passage. In other words Zechariah had the linguistic ability to explicitly say two animals; that he didn't do so doesn't necessarily mean he didn't mean two, but it's hard to support that interpretation from the text.

I do not know what sources beyond the Hebrew text were available to the author of Matthew and what additional insight they bring.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

share|improve this answer
add comment

David Instone-Brewer posits that Matthew was following a rabbinic tradition that rejected the notion that synonymous (poetic) parallelism was intended in the Hebrew Bible:

It is very unlikely that a well-read Jew would misunderstand parallelism. This type of poetic construction was still being used as late as Baruch and 4 Esdras. However, as I have shown elsewhere, the rabbinic authorities before 70 CE totally rejected the concept of synonymous parallelism in Scripture. They regarded Scripture, including the Writings, as a perfect law. One of the characteristics which they assumed to be part of a perfect law was the lack of redundancy. Any unnecessary repetition involved redundancy, and implied sloppy writing by the divine legislator. This did not mean that they only rejected parallelism which was exactly synonymous, if this ever exits. They also rejected parallelism which adds details which were not present in the first line. They do so because a perfect legislator would have used one line or the other—either a general phrase which would imply the more specific or a specific phrase which would be an example of the general.—"The Two Asses of Zechariah 9:9 in Matthew 21", Tyndale Bulletin 54.1 (2003) 87-97. [PDF]

(Hat tip to H3br3wHamm3r81.)

According to this theory Matthew would have:

  1. Seen or received a report of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.
  2. Connected the detail of Jesus riding a donkey to Zechariah 9:9.
  3. Agreed that the apparent parallel structure implied two animals.
  4. Wrote his account to include two animals:

    They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.—Matthew 21:7 (ESV)

By implication, either the report Matthew had of the historical event or his version of that report are confused about the number of animals present. The strength of the case seems to rest on the weight given to the tradition which rejects parallelism compared to the weight given to recording a historical event accurately.

On the other hand, if Matthew's recollection or source of the event was fuzzy on the number of animals, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he interpolated that detail from the prophet's book.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Admittedly this passage is very difficult, but there are some parallels in the gospels that we must compare with similar passages in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, our fundamental hermeneutic is to interpret Scripture with Scripture.

First, when we find Jesus on the Mount of Olives, he is in the company of a crowd of people according to the gospel of Matthew. That is, all three synoptic gospel accounts indicate that Jesus migrated to the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem, but Matthew is the only gospel to emphasize that there was a "crowd" with him on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 21:8).

When King David was on the Mount of Olives (when he was in exile because of rebellious Absalom), there were two donkeys that arrived on the Mount of Olives that were carrying bread, raisins, fruit and wine destined for Jerusalem (2 Sam 16:1-2). This passage indicates that these donkeys were intended to be mounted by the King (Absalom) for whom the provisions and foodstuffs on the donkeys were refreshment for his companions. There is no mention of whether or not David confiscated the load of goods (or the donkeys), but the amount of foodstuffs is almost exactly parallel to what Abigail provided to David's 600 men (1 Sam 25:13), when she loaded donkeys with the same foodstuffs for David and his companions (1 Sam 25:18).

In other words, Jesus mounted the single colt to enter the East Gate of Jerusalem as the deliverer of Israel (the Messiah) in parallel to both Zechariah 9:9 (complete fulfillment) and Ezekiel 43:1-4 (partial fulfillment). But this story starts with two animals and ends with one. That is, the colt and her mother were already loaded with foodstuffs (when they were retrieved by the two disciples) so that (a) Jesus could feed and refresh the crowd that was with him on the Mount of Olives; and (b) to take and ride the single colt into Jerusalem. To put it another way, if Jesus is on the Mount of Olives as the rejected king (like David), then the two asses (donkey and colt) carried the foodstuffs and refreshment for the crowd of several hundred people who were with Jesus on the Mount of Olives in the very same form and fashion as had occurred when King David and his men were on the Mount of Olives.

Finally, both Mark and Luke focus on the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (and thus the emphasis on one animal that was mounted by Jesus), but Matthew is the only gospel that expands the sight picture of the triumphal entry, and includes an emphasis and therefore mentions the "crowd" with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. (The other gospels simply mention the unidentified "they" who were with Jesus, and Luke uses the word "crowd" only after Jesus had begun to leave the Mount of Olives.) My own personal view is that the two animals (donkey and colt) were retrieved by the two disciples fully provisioned with foodstuffs and refreshment for a time of preparatory celebration, but only one of them (the colt) was mounted by Jesus into Jerusalem. The key parallel in the Hebrew Bible again is therefore 2 Sam 16:1-2.

There are therefore no contradictions in the gospel accounts, but simply an amplified view from the perspective of Matthew, who captures the very details of prophecy and the very nuance of David the rejected king on the Mount of Olives. Such an emphasis is not a surprise, since Matthew is the "regal" gospel and therefore has placed an emphasis on Jesus as the Son of David.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.