Saturday, 25 October 2014

Abiathar or Ahimelech

In Matthew we read how Jesus responded to Pharisees about his disciples eating grain.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)
Luke tells us this story though leaves out the comment about the priests profaning the Sabbath.
And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” (Luke 6:3-5)
Mark is similar to Luke but includes a comment concerning Abiathar.
And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” (Mark 2:25-26)
Jesus is referring to a passage in Samuel when David is on the run from Saul.
Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the LORD, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away. (1 Samuel 21:1-6)
This raises the question as to what Jesus means by the time of Abiathar, especially given that the priest mentioned in Samuel was Ahimelech.

In 1950 John Wenham wrote in the Journal of Theological Studies (doi:10.1093/jts/I.2.156-a)
έπι Άβιαθαρ άρχιερεως is usually translated, ‘When Abiathar was high priest’—historically an error. A number of early authorities, e.g. D, W, a, b, e, Sin. Syr. (representing three of the four pre-Byzantine families) and Matthew (12:4) and Luke (6:4), evidently recognize this and omit the phrase. The problem is how to account for the retention of the phrase for so long in the oral tradition when the error was so readily recognized, as the evidence above shows. Might not Mark 12:26 supply the answer? έπι του βατου means ‘at the passage of Scripture concerning (or, entitled) the Bush’. (So also Luke 20:37.) May not έπι Άβιαθαρ άρχιερεως mean ‘at the passage of Scripture concerning (or, entitled) Abiathar the High Priest’, for the passage referred to comes in the chapter (1 Sam. 21) which immediately precedes that recording the first exploits of Abiathar?
What Wenham is saying is that the phrase έπι του βατου appears in Mark
Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, at the bush [έπι του βατου], how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” (Mark 12:24-27)
And that this is translated
have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush
Similarly in the parallel passage in Luke
But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, at the bush [i.e. the passage of the bush], where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. (Luke 20:37)
If this unusual Greek construction is recognised to refer to a passage or section of Scripture in Mark 12 and Luke 20 when Jesus is referring to the passage in Exodus concerning the burning bush, then the same construction in Mark 2 may indicate a reference to the passage in Samuel that discusses Abiathar. It is referring to a named section of Scripture, it is not referring to the person David was talking to. It seems possible that in the time of Jesus (and earlier) Scripture was referred to (at times) by smaller units than books. Our modern system of chapters and verses was not in effect until centuries after the New Testament was completed.

Thus Mark would translate like this,
And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God—in the passage of Abiathar the high priest—and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” (Mark 2:25-26)

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