The apparently confused identification of "Zechariah the son of Barachiah" in Matthew 23:35 is well known.*

Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah (Ζαχαρίου υἱοῦ Βαραχίου), whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (Matt 23:34-35, ESV)

(Mention of his paternity is omitted from the parallel account in Luke.) I noticed that the ESV has a text-critical footnote, "Some manuscripts omit the son of Barachiah." It would obviously be a big deal if there were indeed a substantial possibility that the phrase was a scribal addition. The UBS4 apparatus does not even include a variant here. The NA28 does: ⸋ ℵ* — indicating that the original Codex Sinaiticus omits the phrase. Given the complete lack of mention in UBS apparatus, I'm guessing this is not a plausible reading (ESV's choice to footnote notwithstanding), although Sinaiticus is obviously not trivial.

  • Is there a substantial possibility that this reading (omitting υἱοῦ Βαραχίου) is original?

  • If it is not original, is there a good explanation for why Sinaiticus omitted it? In particular, was there early recognition of this text as problematic?

  • Given the weight normally afforded to Sinaiticus (although I don't know about the text of Matthew in particular), is there an evident reason why this variant seemed to the UBS editors so improbable as to not warrant inclusion in the apparatus?

*Somehow I can't seem to find a question here about this. The basic problem is that Zechariah son of Barachiah most naturally refers to the 6th C. prophet (Zech 1:1) (LXX: Ζαχαριας ὁ τοῦ Βαραχιου; MT is vocalized Berekyah), but he was not, as far as tradition knows, murdered in the temple. The Zechariah of 2 Chr 24:20 was murdered in the temple, but he is called Αζαριας (Azarias) in the LXX, and the name of his father recorded by the Chronicler was Jehoiada (Ιωδαε). The relative merits of the various available solutions may be relevant for answers to this question.

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    It's possible to resolve the supposed discrepancy, see this thread on Christianity.SE. – user862 Jan 2 '16 at 1:18
  • @Susan I like "Simply a Christian's" answer in Christianity, as he describes "Contexualy" what would have been the best solution. Yes, Zechariah was certainly a prophet; but so also was Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. While there is no known mentioning of the father of Zacharias, there are indications of his martyrdom from other accounts(he was murdered by Herod's minions in performance of his priestly ministry, while they were in pursuit of the one who would 'depose' Herod. It would also be consistant with Jesus's accusations towards them, being recent. – Tau May 2 '16 at 0:26
  • (Some claim error)... It would be an obvious error if Zachariah"s (son of Barachiah) death was proven not to be by stoning. Also, Jesus' mentioning of Abel alludes to the first OT prophet killed, I see no reason why He wouldn't allude to an OT prophet's martyrdom who is chronologically near the end of OT canon. – wilberteric Jun 29 '16 at 19:45

Codex Sinaiticus is the only early manuscript that omits this phrase, which is also omitted by codex 59 (13th century) and three Evangelistaria from the 11th to 13th centuries (ℓ 6, ℓ 13, and ℓ 185). Its inclusion in the other early manuscripts is strong evidence that 'son of Barachias' is original to Matthew 23:35.

Zechariah 1:1 does introduce the Old Testament prophet as the son of Berechiah, but there is no evidence that this Zechariah was infamously killed by the Jews; moreover Zechariah is dated to the fifth century BCE, far too early to be the subject of a polemic against the Jews (this would imply that they were blameless after the fifth century BCE). The Zechariah of 2 Chronicles is also too early for this speech, apart from being the son of Jehoiada.

Josephus, in Wars of the Jews Book 4, 5.4, speaks of Zacharias son of Baruch, who was killed in the temple at Jerusalem, around 67 CE. The manner of his death does seem consistent with Matthew 23:35, where the context even suggests the approximate year of Zacharias' death. Commentators who dismiss any connection between this Zacharias and the Zacharias son of Barachias in the gospels, do so on the assumption that the author, as a disciple of Jesus, wrote down the actual words of Jesus and that in, any case, Matthew was written before the events of 67 CE. However, modern scholarship places Matthew later than Mark's Gospel, which is now dated by most critical scholars to around 70 CE.

Given a later date for the authorship of Matthew, around 80-90 CE, there is no good reason to assume that this reference could not have been original. It is more likely that the reference to Zechariah the son of Barachiah was omitted from Codex Sinaiticus than that it was inserted into a very early manuscript, to become the forerunner of all other manuscripts known to us. Plausibly, its removal occurred after an observant scribe realised that Zacharias son of Baruch was murdered long after the time of Jesus.

  • As an aside ("too early"), my understanding is that the reason some have thought Zecharia of 2 Chronicles is plausible as the "last" martyr has to do with that being the final book in a canonical order that may have been set by that time. (As an aside on the aside, I never understood why they should have had any particular order pre-codex era (or, aside-aside-aside, why Chronicles should come after Ezra-Neh.), but I believe that's the argument.) – Susan Jan 2 '16 at 2:11
  • @Susan As you say, some may have thought this, but I disagree. My point in that part of my answer is that "all the righteous blood" shed upon the earth has to cover all recorded history, with the righteous Abel the first victim and Zacharias son of Barachias (whoever he was) the very last victim. Jesus (or Matthew speaking on his behalf) could not have supposed that there was no other righteous blood shed from the sixth century to the present time. Our Zacharias son of Barachias had to be a very recent person. – Dick Harfield Jan 2 '16 at 4:14
  • I don't think it "has to cover all recorded history" if the author didn't intend it that way. But the identification of Matthew's Zechariah was really not intended to be the focus of this Q. – Susan Jan 2 '16 at 7:03
  • @Susan Yes, we have digressed. I know this is not the focus, and I intend it merely as a means to an end. In each of the first 3 paras I have tried to provide further evidence that 'son of Barachiah' is not likely to be an interpolation, then in the 4th para a summary, that Sinaiticus is more likely to have had 'Barachiah' removed, for all the reasons given, than that Sinaiticus is the only one of all the early manuscripts that is faithful to Matt's autograph., – Dick Harfield Jan 2 '16 at 7:40
  • Thanks for explaining how it relates to the Q -- I wasn't following. To me, a strong argument against the א variant needs to explain how it arose from the other, presumably original, reading. The most obvious mechanism would appear to be removal by a (pre-)א scribe who found "son..." problematic. Ironically, by emphasizing the plausibility of the phrase in the autograph, this almost seems to undermine that, making it easier. Although.... if the scribes understood an earlier date for Matt., I think you could close up this argument by pointing that out, providing an explanation for omission. – Susan Jan 2 '16 at 7:56

Those are very good questions. Matthew 23 is a strong indictment of the scribes and Pharisees. They are soon going to kill the most innocent person and greatest prophet of all, Jesus. But people like these Pharisees and scribes have been killing prophets and innocent people from the "foundation of the world" (Luke 11:50). Abel was the first example of the killing of an innocent person and the Zechariah of 2 Chron 24:20-22 was the last prophet to be killed as recorded in the Tanach. This looks like a common Hebrew merism, covering all by mentioning the first and last. The fact that this prophet Zechariah was killed in the courtyard of the Temple seems to clearly point to this Zechariah.

So, how was this prophet wrongly named as "son of Berekiah"? My suggestion is that Zechariah son of Berekiah was better known to the scribes who copied Matthew, because he has a whole book to his name, so they added his last name from memory without thinking carefully of the context. It is a feature of copyists that their focus is on individual words, and they often make changes that do not fit the context. It was clearly a very early addition, since it has crept into so many copies. The fact that it is not found in the parallel of Luke (who was probably having a copy of Matthew on his desk) suggests that it is not original.

Textual criticism often put a lot of emphasis on external criteria, considering how many mss have a certain reading and how early they are and where they come from. In this case, I suggest that internal criteria as well as Luke should point towards this being an early addition to the text.


The "Zechariah son of Barachiah" problem in Matthew 23:35 can be explained in several plausible ways. In making these suggestions, we must recall several things:

  1. It was a scribal error by a copyist who should have written "Jehoiada" from 2 Chron 24:20-24. While this is plausible it is unlikely because there are no significant textual variations in Matt 23:35 to this effect, and, the MSS evidence strongly suggests that what we have now is what Matthew wrote.
  2. St Matthew made a mistake under inspiration. Again, I think this is unlikely.
  3. Jehoiada had another name, Berachiah. This is possible but very unlikely.
  4. Jehoiada had a father or grandfather names Barachiah. This would certainly make Zechariah the "son of" Barachiah in Hebrew idiom.
  5. Matt 23:35 is referring to Zech 1:1. The OT does not record how Zechariah the son of Barachiah, and prophet to the returned Jews died. Matt 23:35 says that he was murdered.

In short, we do not have enough information to resolve this problem when two famous OT men called Zechariah appear confused or conflated in the text of Matt 23:35.

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