Continued from Chapter 30

(Zechariah 9:9)

The prophet Zechariah declares: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, your king is coming to you, he is just and has been saved, humble, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of a she-ass” (Zechariah 9:9).

The Synoptic Gospels say that this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus sent two of his disciples to fetch the animal that was to carry him into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:2-7, Mark 11:2-7, Luke 19:30-35). The Gospel of John claims that Jesus found the animal on his own. He writes, “And Jesus, finding a young ass, sat on it; as it is written: ‘Fear not,  daughter of Zion; behold, your King comes sitting on a she-ass’s colt’” (John 12:14-15). Only one version can be correct, although both can be wrong.

Matthew has an interesting variation in his narrative, which brings up the question: Did Jesus enter Jerusalem riding on one animal, as in the three other Gospels or on two animals, as in the Gospel of Matthew? Matthew writes: [Jesus said] to them: “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a she-ass tied and a colt with her; untie them, and bring them to me. And if anyone says something to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them’; and immediately he will send them.” Now this took place that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled saying: “Say to the daughter of Zion, behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted upon a she-ass, and upon a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” And the disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them, and brought the she-ass and the colt, and put upon them their garments, and he sat upon them. (Matthew 21:2-7)

Matthew ignores that synonymous parallelism is a common feature of biblical poetry. As a result, he gives a misreading of the prophecy, which is as if the prophet was referring to someone riding two animals. But, the fact is that the parallel structure of biblical poetry is a poetic device that calls for repetition of an idea or fact. However, this does not mean there is an actual duplication that is to be taken literally. Zechariah’s prophecy mentions only the riding of one male animal. The prophet’s statement, “riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of a she-ass,” expresses the same event in different words. Matthew creates an imaginary fulfillment of a prophecy that never existed in the first place.

He thinks that two different animals are involved and so has the disciples bring two, a she-ass and its colt. Therefore, he writes, “Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted upon a she-ass, and upon a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. And the disciples … put upon them their garments, and he sat upon them.” Matthew’s Jesus came to Jerusalem riding astride both animals, one being male and the 5 female respectively. A rather uncomfortable fulfillment but all the more a miracle as they would be of different sizes. Each animal, we are told, was covered by the garments of Jesus’ disciples, which shows that “he sat upon them” refers to the animals not the garments. The mention of the garments is incidental to the narrative. Those who accept such alleged fulfilments of prophecy must do it on faith alone, as they lack a basis in in historical fact.

© Gerald Sigal