The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE CALL OF MATTHEW
THE SAVIOUR'S WELCOME TO SINNERS
RABBINIC THEOLOGY AS REGARDS THE DOCTRINE OF FORGIVENESS IN
CONTRAST TO THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST
THE CALL OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES.
(St. Matthew 9:9-13; St. Mark 2:13-17; St.
Luke 5:27-32; St. Matthew 10:2-4; St. Mark 3:13-19; St. Luke
In two things chiefly does the fundamental difference appear
between Christianity and all other religious systems, notably Rabbinism. And in
these two things, therefore, lies the main characteristic of Christ's work; or,
taking a wider view, the fundamental idea of all religions. Subjectively, they
concern sin and the sinner; or, to put it objectively, the
forgiveness of sin and the welcome to the sinner. But Rabbinism, and every
other system down to modern humanitarianism - if it rises so high in its idea
of God as to reach that of sin, which is its shadow - can only generally point
to God for the forgiveness of sin. What here is merely an abstraction, has
become a concrete reality in Christ. He speaks forgiveness on earth, because He
is its embodiment. As regards the second idea, that of the sinner, all other
systems know of no welcome to him till, by some means (inward or outward), he
have ceased to be a sinner and become a penitent. They would first make him a
penitent, and then bid him welcome to God; Christ first welcomes him to God,
and so makes him a penitent. The one demands, the other imparts life. And so
Christ is the Physician Whom they that are in health need not, but they that
are sick. And so Christ came not to call the righteous but sinners - not to repentance,
as our common text erroneously puts it in St. Matthew ix. 13, and St. Mark ii.
17,1 but to
Himself, to the Kingdom; and this is the beginning of repentance.
1. The words 'to repentance' are certainly spurious in St. Matt. and St. Mark. I regard theirs as the original and authentic report of the words of Christ. In St. Luke v. 32, the words 'unto repentance' do certainly occur. But, with Godet,
I regard them as referring to 'the righteous,' and as used, in a sense
Thus it is that Jesus, when His teaching becomes distinctive
from that of Judaism, puts these two points in the foreground: the one at the
cure of the paralytic, the other in the call of Levi-Matthew. And this, also,
further explains His miracles of healing as for the higher presentation of
Himself as the Great Physician, while it gives some insight into the nexus
of these two events, and explains their chronological succession.2
It was fitting that at the very outset, when Rabbinism followed and challenged
Jesus with hostile intent, these two spiritual facts should be brought out, and
that, not in a controversial, but in a positive and practical manner. For, as
these two questions of sin and of the possible relation of the sinner to God
are the great burden of the soul in its upward striving after God, so the
answer to them forms the substance of all religions. Indeed, all the cumbrous
observances of Rabbinism - its whole law - were only an attempted answer to the
question: How can a man be just with God?
2. So in all the three Gospels.
But, as Rabbinism stood self-confessedly silent and powerless
as regarded the forgiveness of sins, so it had emphatically no word of welcome
or help for the sinner. The very term 'Pharisee,' or 'separated one,' implied
the exclusion of sinners. With this the whole character of Pharisaism accorded;
perhaps, we should have said, that of Rabbinism, since the Sadducean would here
agree with the Pharisaic Rabbi. The contempt and avoidance of the unlearned,
which was so characteristic of the system, arose not from mere pride of
knowledge, but from the thought that, as 'the Law' was the glory and privilege
of Israel - indeed, the object for which the world was created and preserved -
ignorance of it was culpable. Thus, the unlearned blasphemed his Creator, and
missed or perverted his own destiny. It was a principle, that 'the ignorant
cannot be pious.' On the principles of Rabbinism, there was logic in all this,
and reason also, though sadly perverted. The yoke of 'the Kingdom of God' was
the high destiny of every true Israelite. Only, to them it lay in external, not
internal conformity to the Law of God: 'in meat and drink,' not 'in
righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.' True, they also perceived,
that 'sins of thought' and purpose, though uncommitted, were 'more grievous
than even sins of outward deed;'3
but only in this sense, that each outward sin was traceable to inward
dereliction or denial of the Law - 'no man sinneth, unless the spirit of error
has first entered into him.'4
On this ground the punishment of infidelity or apostasy in the next world was
endless, while that of actual transgressions was limited in duration.56
3. Yoma 29 a.
4. Sot. 3 a.
5. Rosh haSh. 17 a.
6. Comp. Sepher Iqqarim iv. 28.
As 'righteousness came by the Law,' so also return to it on the
part of the sinner. Hence, although Rabbinism had no welcome to the sinner, it
was unceasing in its call to repentance and in extolling its merits. All the prophets
had prophesied only of repentance.7
The last pages of the Tractate on the Day of Atonement are full of praises of
repentance. It not only averted punishment and prolonged life, but brought
good, even the final redemption to Israel and the world at large. It surpassed
the observance of all the commandments, and was as meritorious as if one had
restored the Temple and Altar, and offered all sacrifices.8
One hour of penitence and good works outweighed the whole world to come. These
are only a few of the extravagant statements by which Rabbinism extolled
repentance. But, when more closely examined, we find that this repentance, as
preceding the free welcome of invitation to the sinner, was only another form
of work-righteousness. This is, at any rate, one meaning9
of the saying which conjoined the Law and repentance, and represented them as
preceding the Creation.10
Another would seem derived from a kind of Manichaean view of sin. According to
it, God Himself was really the author of the Yetser haRa, or evil
impulse11 ('the law
in our members'), for which, indeed, there was an absolute necessity, if the
world was to continue.1213
Hence, 'the penitent' was really 'the great one,' since his strong nature had
more in it of the 'evil impulse,' and the conquest of it by the penitent was
really of greater merit than abstinence from sin.14
Thus it came, that the true penitent really occupied a higher place, 'stood
where the perfectly righteous could not stand.'15
There is then both work and merit in penitence; and we can understand, how 'the
gate of penitence is open, even when that of prayer is shut,'16
and that these two sentences are not only consistent, but almost cover each
other - that the Messianic deliverance would come, if all Israel did
and, again, if all Israel repented for only one day;18
or, to put it otherwise - if Israel were all saints, or all sinners.19
7. Ber. 34 h.
8. Vayyik. R. 7.
9. It would be quite one-sided to represent this as the only meaning, as, it seems to me, Weber has done in his 'System d. altsynagog, palaest. Theol.' This, and a certain defectiveness in the treatment, are among the blemishes in
this otherwise interesting and very able posthumous work.
10. Pes. 54 a; Ber. R. 1.
11. So in too many passages for enumeration.
12. Yoma 69 b; Ber. R. 9, and in many places.
13. Some of these points have already been stated. But it was necessary to repeat them so as to give a connected view.
16. Yalkut on Ps. xxxii. p. 101 b.
17. Sanh. 98 a.
18. Sanh. 98 a; Jer. Taan. 64 a.
19. Sanh. 98 a.
We have already touched the point where, as regards repentance,
as formerly in regard to forgiveness, the teaching of Christ is in absolute and
fundamental contrariety to that of the Rabbis. According to Jesus Christ, when
we have done all, we are to feel that we are but unprofitable servants.20
According to the Rabbis, as St. Paul puts it, 'righteousness cometh by the
Law;' and, when it is lost, the Law alone can restore life;21
while, according to Christian teaching, it only bringeth death. Thus there was,
at the very foundation of religious life, absolute contrariety between Jesus
and His contemporaries. Whence, if not from heaven, came a doctrine so novel as
that which Jesus made the basis of His Kingdom?
20. St. Luke xvii. 10.
21. So, according to Rabbinism, both in the Sepher Iqqar. and in Menor. Hammaor.
In one respect, indeed, the Rabbinic view was in some measure
derived from the Old Testament, though by an external and, therefore, false
interpretation of its teaching. In the Old Testament, also, 'repentance' was Teshubhah
(hbw#t), 'return;' while, in the New Testament, it is 'change of mind' (metanoia). It would not be fair here
to argue, that the common expression for repenting was 'to do penitence'
(hbw#t h#(), since by its side we frequently meet that other: 'to return in
penitence' (hbw#tb bw#). Indeed, other terms for repentance also occur. Thus Tohu
(wht) means repentance in the sense of regret; Charatah, perhaps,
more in that of a change of mind; while Teyubha or Teshubhah is
the return of repentance. Yet, according to the very common Rabbinic
expression, there is a 'gate of repentance' ()bwyt hbw#t r(#) through which a man must
enter, and, even if Charatah be the sorrowing change of mind, it is at
most only that gate. Thus, after all, there is more in the 'doing of penitence'
than appears at first sight. In point of fact, the full meaning of repentance
as Teshubhah, or 'return,' is only realised, when a man has returned
from dereliction to observance of the Law. Then, sins of purpose are looked
upon as if they had been unintentional - nay, they become even virtuous
22. Yoma 86.
We are not now speaking of the forgiveness of sins. In truth,
Rabbinism knew nothing of a forgiveness of sin, free and unconditional, unless
in the case of those who had not the power of doing anything for their
atonement. Even in the passage which extols most the freeness and the benefits
of repentance (the last pages of the Tractate on the Day of Atonement), there
is the most painful discussion about sins great and small, about repentance
from fear or from love, about sins against commands or against prohibitions;
and, in what cases repentance averted, or else only deferred, judgment, leaving
final expiation to be wrought by other means. These were: personal sufferings,23
death,24 or the
Day of Atonement.>25
Besides these, there were always the 'merits of the fathers;'26
or, perhaps, some one good work done;27
or, at any rate, the brief period of purgatorial pain, which might open the
gate of mercy. These are the so-called 'advocates' (Peraqlitin, Ny+ylqrp) of
the penitent sinner. In a classical passage on the subject,28
repentance is viewed in its bearing on four different spiritual29
conditions, which are supposed to be respectively referred to in Jer. iii. 22;
Lev. xvi. 30; Is. xxii. 14; and Ps. lxxxix. 32. The first of these refers to a
breach of a command, with immediate and persistent cry for forgiveness,
which is at once granted. The second is that of a breach of a prohibition,
when, besides repentance, the Day of Atonement is required. The third is that
of purposed sin, on which death or cutting off had been threatened,
when, besides repentance and the Day of Atonement, sufferings are required;
while in open profanation of the Name of God, only death can make final
23. Ber. 5 a, b; Kidd. 81 b.
24. Yoma u. s.
25. Yoma u. s., and many passages.
26. In almost innumerable passages.
27. Ab. Zar. 5 a.
28. Mechilta, 76 a.
29. In Menorath Hammaor (Ner v. 1. 1, 2) seven kinds of repentance in regard to seven different conditions are mentioned. They are repentance immediately after the commission of sin; after a course of sin, but while there is still the power of sinning; where there is no longer the occasion for sinning; where it is caused by admonition, or fear of danger; where it is caused by actual affliction; where a man is old, and unable to sin; and, lastly, repentance in prospect of death.
30. See also Yoma 86 and following.
But the nature of repentance has yet to be more fully
explained. Its gate is sorrow and shame.31
In that sense repentance may be the work of a moment, 'as in the twinkling of
an eye,'32 and a
life's sins may obtain mercy by the tears and prayers of a few minutes'
To this also refers the beautiful saying, that all which rendered a sacrifice
unfit for the altar, such as that it was broken, fitted the penitent for
acceptance, since 'the sacrifices of God were a broken and contrite heart.'35
By the side of what may be called contrition, Jewish theology places confession
(Viddui, ywdyw). This was deemed so integral a part of repentance,
that those about to be executed,36
or to die,37 were
admonished to it. Achan of old had thus obtained pardon.38
But in the case of the living all this could only be regarded as repentance in
the sense of being its preparation or beginning. Even if it were Charatah,
or regret at the past, it would not yet be Teshubhah, or return to God;
and even if it changed purposed into unintentional sin, arrested judgment, and
stayed or banished its Angel, it would still leave a man without those works
which are not only his real destiny and merit heaven, but constitute true
repentance. For, as sin is ultimately dereliction of the Law, beginning within,
so repentance is ultimately return to the Law. In this sense there is a higher
and meritorious confession, which not only owns sin but God, and is therefore
an inward return to Him. So Adam, when he saw the penitence of Cain, burst into
'It is a good thing to confess40
unto the Lord.'4142
Manasseh, when in trouble, called upon God and was heard,43
although it is added, that this was only done in order to prove that the door
of repentance was open to all. Indeed, the Angels had closed the windows of
Heaven against his prayers, but God opened a place for their entrance beneath
His throne of glory.44
Similarly, even Pharaoh, who, according to Jewish tradition, made in the Red
Sea confession of God,45
was preserved, became king of Nineveh, and so brought the Ninevites to true
repentance, which verily consisted not merely in sackcloth and fasting, but in
restitution, so that every one who had stolen a beam pulled down his whole
palace to restore it.46
31. Ber. 12 b; Chag. 5 a.
32. Pesiqta ed. Bub. p. 163 b.
33. Ab. Zar. 17 a.
34. This is illustrated, among other things, by the history of a Rabbi who, at the close
of a dissolute life, became a convert by repentance. The story of the occasion of his repentance is not at all nice in its realistic details, and the tears
with which a self-righteous colleague saw the beatification of the penitent are
painfully illustrative of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Ab. Z. 17 a).
35. Vayyik. R. 7.
36. Sanh. vi. 2.
37. Shabb. 32 a.
38. Sanh. u. s.
39. Ps. xcii.
40. So it would need to be rendered in this context.
41. Ber. R. 22.
42. Another beautiful allegory is that, in the fear of Adam, as the night closed in upon
his guilt, God gave him two stones to rub against each other, which produced the spark of light - the rubbing of these two stones being emblematic of repentance (Pes. 54 a; Ber. R. 11, 12).
43. 2 Chron. xxxiii. 12, 13.
44. Debar. R. 2; ed. Warsh. p. 7 a; comp. Sanh. 102 b, last lines, and 103 a.
45. Ex. xv. 11.
46. Taan. 16 a.
But, after all, inward repentance only arrested the decrees of
which really put the penitent into right relationship with God was good
deeds. The term must here be taken in its widest sense. Fasting is
meritorious in a threefold sense: as the expression of humiliation,48
as an offering to God, similar to, but better than the fat of sacrifices on the
altar,49 and as
preventing further sins by chastening and keeping under the body.50
A similar view must be taken of self-inflicted penances.5152
On the other hand, there was restitution to those who had been wronged - as a
woman once put it to her husband, to the surrender of one's 'girdle.'5354
Nay, it must be of even more than was due in strict law.55
To this must be added public acknowledgment of public sins. If a person had
sinned in one direction, he must not only avoid it for the future,56
but aim at doing all the more in the opposite direction, or of overcoming sin
in the same circumstances of temptation.57
Beyond all this were the really good works, whether occupation with the Law58
or outward deeds, which constituted perfect repentance. Thus we read,59
that every time Israel gave alms or did any kindness, they made in this world
great peace, and procured great Paracletes between Israel and their Father in
Heaven. Still farther, we are told60
what a sinner must do who would be pardoned. If he had been accustomed daily to
read one column in the Bible, let him read two; if to learn one chapter in the
Mishnah, let him learn two. But if he be not learned enough to do either, let
him become an administrator for the congregation, or a public distributor of
alms. Nay, so far was the doctrine of external merit carried, that to be buried
in the land of Israel was supposed to ensure forgiveness of sins.61
This may, finally, be illustrated by an instance, which also throws some light
on the parable of Dives in Hades. Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish had in early life
been the associate of two robbers. But he repented, 'returned to his God with
all his heart, with fasting and prayer, was early and late before God, and
busied himself with the Torah (Law) and the commandments.' Then both he
and his former companions died, when they saw him in glory, while themselves
were in the lowest hell. And when they reminded God, that with Him there was no
regard of persons, He pointed to the Rabbi's penitence and their own
impenitence. On this they asked for respite, that they might 'do great
penitence,' when they were told that there was no space for repentance after
death. This is farther enforced by a parable to the effect, that a man, who is
going into the wilderness, must provide himself with bread and water while in
the inhabited country, if he would not perish in the desert.
47. Rosh haSh. 17 b.
48. Baba. Mez. 85 a.
49. Ber. 17 a.
50. u. s.
51. Baba Mez. 85 a.
52. Baba Mez. 84 b (quoted by Weber) is scarcely an instance. The whole of
that part of the Talmud is specially repugnant, from its unsavory character and grossly absurd stories. In one of the stories in Baba Mez. 85, a Rabbi tries by
sitting over the fire in an oven, whether he has become impervious to the fire of Gehinnom. For thirty days he was successful, but after that it was noticed his thighs were singed, whence he was called 'the little one with the singed thighs.'
53. Tanch. Noach 4.
54. But such restitution was sometimes not insisted on, for the sake of encouraging penitents.
55. See the discussion in B. Mez. 37 a.
56. Rabbinism has an apt illustration of this in the saying, that all the baths of lustration would not cleanse a man, so long as he continued holding in his hand that which had polluted him (Taan. 16 a).
57. These statements are all so thoroughly Rabbinic that it is needless to make special references.
58. Vayyik. R. 3, towards the end.
59. In B. Bab. 10 a.
60. Vayyik. R. 25, beg. ed. Warsh. p. 38 a.
61. Tanch. on Gen. xlviii.
Thus, in one and another respect, Rabbinic teaching about the
need of repentance runs close to that of the Bible. But the vital difference
between Rabbinism and the Gospel lies in this: that whereas Jesus Christ freely
invited all sinners, whatever their past, assuring them of welcome and
grace, the last word of Rabbinism is only despair, and a kind of Pessimism.
For, it is expressly and repeatedly declared in the case of certain sins, and,
characteristically, of heresy, that, even if a man genuinely and truly
repented, he must expect immediately to die - indeed, his death would be the
evidence that his repentance was genuine, since, though such a sinner might
turn from his evil, it would be impossible for him, if he lived, to lay hold on
the good, and to do it.62
62. Ab. Zar. 17 a.
It is in the light of what we have just learned concerning the
Rabbinic views of forgiveness and repentance that the call of Levi-Matthew must
be read, if we would perceive its full meaning. There is no need to suppose
that it took place immediately on the cure of the paralytic. On the contrary,
the more circumstantial account of St. Mark implies, that some time had
If our suggestion be correct, that it was winter when the paralytic was healed
at Capernaum, we may suppose it to have been the early spring-time of that
favoured district, when Jesus 'went forth again by the seaside.' And with this,
as we shall see, best agrees the succession of afterevents.
63. St. Mark ii. 13.
Few, if any, could have enjoyed better opportunities for
hearing, and quietly thinking over the teaching of the Prophet of Nazareth,
than Levi-Matthew. There is no occasion for speculating which was his original,
or whether the second name was added after his conversion, since in Galilee it
was common to have two names - one the strictly Jewish, the other the Galilean.64
Nor do we wonder, that in the sequel the first or purely Jewish name of Levi
was dropped, and only that of Matthew (Matti, Mattai, Matteya,
Mattithyah), retained. The latter which is the equivalent of Nathanael,
or of the Greek Theodore (gift of God), seems to have been frequent. We read
that it was that of a former Temple-official,65
and of several Rabbis.66
It is perhaps of more interest, that the Talmud67
names five as the disciples of Jesus, and among them these two whom we can
clearly identify: Matthew68
64. Gitt. 34 b.
65. Sheq. v. 1.
66. Eduy. ii. 5; Yoma 84 a.
67. Sanh. 43 a, in the older editions; comp, Chesron. haShas, p. 22 b.
68. A ridiculous story is told that Matthew endeavored to avert sentence of death by a play on his name, quoting Ps. xlii. 2: 'Mathai (in our version, 'When') I shall come and appear before God;' to which the judges replied by similarly adapting Ps. xli. 5: 'Mathai (in our version, 'When') he shall die, and his name perish.'
69. The other three disciples are named: Neqai, Netser, and Boni, or Buni. In Taan. 20 a a miracle is related which gave to Boni the name of Nicodemus (Naqdimon). But I regard this as some confusion, of which there is much in connection with the name of Nicodemus in the Talmud. According to the Talmud, like Matthew, the other three tried to save their lives by punning
appeals to Scripture, similar to that of St. Matthew. Thus, Neqai quotes Exod. xxiii. 7, 'Naqi ('the innocent' in our version) and the righteous shalt thou not slay,' to which the judges replied by Ps. x. 8, 'in the secret places he shall slay Naqi ('the innocent' in our version)'. Again, Netser pleads Is. xi. 1: 'Netser (a branch) shall grow out of his roots,' to which the judges reply, Is. xiv. 19: 'Thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable Netser' (branch), while Boni tries to save his life by a pun on Exod. iv. 22: 'My first-born Beni (in our version, 'my son') is Israel,' to which the judges reply by quoting the next verse, 'I will slay Binkha (in our version, 'thy son'), thy first-born!' If the Hebrew Beni was sometimes pronounced Boni, this may account for the Grecianised form Boanerges
('sons of thunder') for Beney-Regosh, or Regasha. In Hebrew the root scarcely means even 'noise' (see Gesenius sub #gr), but it has that meaning in the Aram�an. Kautzsch (Gram. d. Bibl.-Aram.) suggests
the word regaz 'anger,' 'angry impetuosity.' But the suggestion does not commend itself.
his custom-house, as on that day when Jesus called him, Matthew must have
frequently heard Him as He taught by the sea-shore. For this would be the best,
and therefore often chosen, place for the purpose. Thither not only the
multitude from Capernaum could easily follow; but here was the landing-place
for the many ships which traversed the Lake, or coasted from town to town. And
this not only for them who had business in Capernaum or that neighbourhood, but
also for those who would then strike the great road of Eastern commerce, which led
from Damascus to the harbours of the West. Touching the Lake in that very
neighbourhood, it turned thence, northwards and westwards, to join what was
termed the Upper Galilean road.
70. epi to telwnion.
We know much, and yet, as regards details, perhaps too little
about those 'tolls, dues, and customs,' which made the Roman administration
such sore and vexatious exaction to all 'Provincials,' and which in Jud�a
loaded the very name of publican with contempt and hatred. They who cherished
the gravest religious doubts as to the lawfulness of paying any tribute to
C�sar, as involving in principle recognition of a bondage to which they would
fain have closed their eyes, and the substitution of heathen kingship for that
of Jehovah, must have looked on the publican as the very embodiment of
antinationalism. But perhaps men do not always act under the constant
consciousness of such abstract principles. Yet the endless vexatious
interferences, the unjust and cruel exactions, the petty tyranny, and the
extortionate avarice, from which there was neither defense nor appeal, would
make it always well-nigh unbearable. It is to this that the Rabbis so often
refer. If 'publicans' were disqualified from being judges or witnesses, it was,
at least so far as regarded witness-bearing, because 'they exacted more than
was due.'71 Hence
also it was said, that repentance was specially difficult for tax-gatherers and
71. Sanh. 25 b.
72. Baba K. 94 b.
73. With them herdsmen were conjoined, on account of their frequent temptations to dishonesty, and their wild lives far from ordinances.
It is of importance to notice, that the Talmud distinguishes
two classes of 'publicans:' the tax-gatherer in general (Gabbai), and
the Mokhes, or Mokhsa, who was specially the douanier or
Although both classes fall under the Rabbinic ban, the douanier - such
as Matthew was - is the object of chief execration. And this, because his
exactions were more vexatious, and gave more scope to rapacity. The Gabbai,
or tax-gatherer, collected the regular dues, which consisted of ground-,
income-, and poll-tax. The ground-tax amounted to one-tenth of all grain and
one-fifth of the wine and fruit grown; partly paid in kind, and partly commuted
into money. The income-tax amounted to 1 per cent.; while the head-money, or
poll-tax, was levied on all persons, bond and free, in the case of men from the
age of fourteen, in that of women from the age of twelve, up to that of
74. W�nsche is mistaken in making the Gabbai the superior, and the Mokhes the subordinate, tax-collector. See Levy, Neuhebr. W�rterb, iii. p. 116 a.
If this offered many opportunities for vexatious exactions and
rapacious injustice, the Mokhes might inflict much greater hardship upon
the poor people. There was tax and duty upon all imports and exports; on all
that was bought and sold; bridge-money, road-money, harbour-dues, town-dues,
&c. The classical reader knows the ingenuity which could invent a tax, and
find a name for every kind of exaction, such as on axles, wheels, pack-animals,
pedestrians, roads, highways; on admission to markets; on carriers, bridges,
ships, and quays; on crossing rivers, on dams, on licences, in short, on such a
variety of objects, that even the research of modern scholars has not been able
to identify all the names. On goods the ad valorem duty amounted to from
2� to 5, and on articles of luxury to even 12� per cent. But even this was as
nothing, compared to the vexation of being constantly stopped on the journey,
having to unload all one's pack-animals, when every bale and package was
opened, and the contents tumbled about, private letters opened, and the Mokhes
ruled supreme in his insolence and rapacity.
The very word Mokhes seems, in its root-meaning,
associated with the idea of oppression and injustice. He was literally, as
really, an oppressor. The Talmud charges them with gross partiality, remitting
in the case of those to whom they wished to show favour, and exacting from
those who were not their favourites. They were a criminal race, to which Lev.
xx. 5 applied. It was said, that there never was a family which numbered a Mokhes,
in which all did not become such. Still, cases are recorded when a religious
publican would extend favour to Rabbis, or give them timely notice to go into
hiding. If one belonging to the sacred association (a Chabher) became
either a Gabbai or a Mokhes, he was at once expelled, although he
might be restored on repentance.75
That there was ground for such rigour, appears from such an occurrence,76
as when a Mokhes took from a defenseless person his ass, giving him
another, and very inferior, animal for it. Against such unscrupulous oppressors
every kind of deception was allowed; goods might be declared to be votive
offerings,77 or a
person pass his slave as his son.78
75. Jer. Dem. 23 a; comp. Bekhor. 31 a.
76. In B. Kamma x. 2.
77. Nedar. iii. 4.
78. Jer. Kidd. 66 b.
The Mokhes was called 'great'79
if he employed substitutes, and 'small' if he stood himself at the receipt of
custom. Till the time of C�sar the taxes were farmed in Rome, at the highest
bidding, mostly by a joint-stock company of the knightly order, which employed
publicans under them. But by a decree of C�sar, the taxes of Jud�a were no
longer farmed, but levied by publicans in Jud�a, and paid directly to the
Government, the officials being appointed by the provincials themselves.8081
This was, indeed, a great alleviation, although it perhaps made the tax-gatherers
only more unpopular, as being the direct officials of the heathen power. This
also explains how, if the Mishnah forbids82
even the changing of money from the guilt-laden chest of a Mokhes, or douanier,
the Gemara83 adds,
that such applied to custom-house officers who either did not keep to the tax
appointed by the Government, or indeed to any fixed tax, and to those who
appointed themselves to such office - that is, as we take it, who would
volunteer for the service, in the hope of making profit on their own account.
An instance is, however, related of a Gabbai, or tax-gatherer, becoming
a celebrated Rabbi, though the taint of his former calling deterred the more
rigid of his colleagues from intercourse with him.84
On heathen feast days toll was remitted to those who came to the festival.85
Sometimes this was also done from kindness.86
The following story may serve as a final illustration of the popular notions,
alike about publicans and about the merit of good works. The son of a Mokhes
and that of a very pious man had died. The former received from his townsmen
all honour at his burial, while the latter was carried unmourned to the grave.
This anomaly was Divinely explained by the circumstance, that the pious man had
committed one transgression, and the publican had done one good deed. But a few
days afterwards a further vision and dream was vouchsafed to the survivors,
when the pious was seen walking in gardens beside water-brooks, while the
publican was described stretching out his tongue towards the river to quench
his thirst, but unable to reach the refreshing stream.87
79. Shabb. 78 b.
80. Jos. Ant. xiv. 10. 5.
81. Comp. Wieseler's Beitr. pp. 75-78. Hence the 'publicans' were not subordinates, but direct officials of the Government.
82. B. Kamma x. 1.
83. Baba K. 113 a.
84. Bekhor. 31 a.
85. Ab. Zar. 13 a.
86. Tos. B. Mets. viii. 25, ed. Zuck.
87. Jer. Chag. 77 d; comp Jer. Sanh. 23 c, and Sanh. 44 b.
What has been described in such detail, will cast a peculiar
light on the call of Matthew by the Saviour of sinners. For, we remember that
Levi-Matthew was not only a 'publican,' but of the worst kind: a 'Mokhes'
or douanier; a 'little Mokhes,' who himself stood at his custom-house;
one of the class to whom, as we are told, repentance offered special
difficulties. And, of all such officials, those who had to take toll from ships
were perhaps the worst, if we are to judge by the proverb: 'Woe to the ship
which sails without having paid the dues.'88
And yet, after all, Matthew may have been only one of that numerous class to
whom religion is merely a matter quite outside of, and in another region from
life, and who, having first gone astray through ignorance, feel themselves ever
farther repelled, or rather shut out, by the narrow, harsh uncharitableness of
those whom they look upon as the religious and pious.
88. Ab. Zar. 10 b.
But now quite another day had dawned on him. The Prophet of
Nazareth was not like those other great Rabbis, or their pietist,
self-righteous imitators. There was that about Him which not only aroused the
conscience, but drew the heart - compelling, not repelling. What He said opened
a new world. His very appearance bespoke Him not harsh, self-righteous, far
away, but the Helper, if not even the Friend, of sinners. There was not between
Him and one like Matthew, the great, almost impassable gap of repentance. He
had seen and heard Him in the Synagogue - and who that had heard His Words, or
witnessed His power, could ever forget, or lose the impression? The people, the
rulers, even the evil spirits, had owned His authority. But in the Synagogue
Jesus was still the Great One, far-away from him; and he, Levi-Matthew, the
'little Mokhes' of Capernaum, to whom, as the Rabbis told him, repentance was
next to impossible. But out there, in the open, by the seashore, it was
otherwise. All unobserved by others, he observed all, and could yield himself,
without reserve, to the impression. Now, it was an eager multitude that came
from Capernaum; then, a long train bearing sufferers, to whom gracious, full,
immediate relief was granted - whether they were Rabbinic saints, or sinners.
And still more gracious than His deeds were His Words.
And so Matthew sat before his custom-house, and hearkened and
hoped. Those white-sailed ships would bring crowds of listeners; the busy
caravan on that highway would stop, and its wayfarers turn aside to join the
eager multitude - to hear the Word or see the Word. Surely, it was not 'a time
for buying and selling,' and Levi would have little work, and less heart for it
at his custom-house. Perhaps he may have witnessed the call of the first
Apostles; he certainly must have known the fishermen and shipowners of
Capernaum. And now it appeared, as if Jesus had been brought still nearer to
Matthew. For, the great ones of Israel, 'the Scribes of the Pharisees,'89
and their pietest followers, had combined against Him, and would exclude Him,
not on account of sin, but on account of the sinners. And so, we take it, long
before that eventful day which for ever decided his life, Matthew had, in
heart, become the disciple of Jesus. Only he dared not, could not, have hoped
for personal recognition - far less for call to discipleship. But when it came,
and Jesus fixed on him that look of love which searched the inmost deep of the
soul, and made Him the true Fisher of men, it needed not a moment's thought or
consideration. When he spake it, 'Follow Me,' the past seemed all swallowed up
in the present heaven of bliss. He said not a word, for his soul was in the
speechless surprise of unexpected love and grace; but he rose up, left the
custom-house, and followed Him. That was a gain that day, not of Matthew alone,
but of all the poor and needy in Israel - nay, of all sinners from among men,
to whom the door of heaven was opened. And, verily, by the side of Peter, as
the stone, we place Levi-Matthew, as typical of those rafters laid on the great
foundation, and on which is placed the flooring of that habitation of the Lord,
which is His Church.
89. This is perhaps the better reading of St. Mark ii. 16.
It could not have been long after this - probably almost
immediately - that the memorable gathering took place in the house of Matthew,
which gave occasion to that cavil of the Pharisaic Scribes, which served
further to bring out the meaning of Levi's call. For, opposition ever brings
into clearer light positive truth, just as judgment comes never alone, but
always conjoined with display of higher mercy. It was natural that all the
publicans around should, after the call of Matthew, have come to his house to
meet Jesus. Even from the lowest point of view, the event would give them a new
standing in the Jewish world, in relation to the Prophet of Nazareth. And it was
characteristic that Jesus should improve such opportunity. When we read of
'sinners' as in company with these publicans, it is not necessary to think of
gross or open offenders, though such may have been included. For, we know what
such a term may have included in the Pharisaic vocabulary. Equally
characteristic was it, that the Rabbinists should have addressed their
objection as to fellowship with such, not to the Master, but to the disciples.
Perhaps, it was not only, nor chiefly, from moral cowardice, though they must
have known what the reply of Jesus would have been. On the other hand, there
was wisdom, or rather cunning, in putting it to the disciples. They were but
initial learners - and the question was one not so much of principle, as of
acknowledged Jewish propriety. Had they been able to lodge this cavil in their
minds, it would have fatally shaken the confidence of the disciples in the
Master; and, if they could have been turned aside, the cause of the new Christ
would have been grievously injured, if not destroyed. It was with the same
object, that they shortly afterwards enlisted the aid of the well-meaning, but
only partially-instructed disciples of John on the question of fasting,90
which presented a still stronger consensus of Jewish opinion as against
Christ, all the more telling, that here the practice of John seemed to clash
with that of Jesus.
90. St. Matt. ix. 14-17.
But then John was at the time in prison, and passing through
the temporary darkness of a thick cloud towards the fuller light. But Jesus
could not leave His disciples to answer for themselves. What, indeed, could or
would they have had to say? And He ever speaks for us, when we cannot answer
for ourselves. From their own standpoint and contention - nay, also in their
own form of speech - He answered the Pharisees. And He not only silenced their
gain-saying, but further opened up the meaning of His acting - nay, His very
purpose and Mission. 'No need have they who are strong and in health91
of a physician, but they who are ill.' It was the very principle of Pharisaism
which He thus set forth, alike as regarded their self-exclusion from Him and
His consorting with the diseased. And, as the more Hebraic St. Matthew adds,
applying the very Rabbinic formula, so often used when superficial speciousness
of knowledge is directed to further thought and information: 'Go and learn!'92
Learn what? What their own Scriptures meant; what was implied in the further
prophetic teaching, as correction of a one-sided literalism and externalism
that misinterpreted the doctrine of sacrifices - learn that fundamental
principle of the spiritual meaning of the Law as explanatory of its mere
letter, 'I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.' They knew no mercy that was not
sacrifice93 - with
merit attaching; He no sacrifice, real and acceptable to God, that was not
mercy. And this also is a fundamental principle of the Old Testament, as
spiritually understood; and, being such a fundamental principle, He afterwards
again applied this saying of the prophet94
to His own mode of viewing and treating the Sabbath-question.95
91. The latter in St. Luke v. 31.
92. dmlw )c,
a very common formula, where further thought and instruction are required. So common, indeed, is it, that it is applied in the sense of 'let,' such or such thing 'come and teach' (dmylw )cy). Sometimes the formula is varied, as h)rw )wb, 'come and see' (Baba Bath. 10 a), or w)rw w)c, 'go and see'
(u. s., b).
93. Even in that beautiful page in the Talmud (Succ. 49 b) righteousness and sacrifices are compared, the former being declared the greater; and then righteousness is compared with works of kindness with alms, &c.
94. Hos. vi. 6.
95. St. Matt. xii. 7.
This was one aspect of it, as Jesus opened up anew the Old
Testament, of which their key of knowledge had only locked the door. There was
yet another and higher, quite explaining and applying alike this saying and the
whole Old Testament, and thus His Own Mission. And this was the fullest
unfolding and highest vindication of it: 'For, I am not come to call righteous
men, but sinners.'96
The introduction of the words 'to repentance' in some manuscripts of St.
Matthew and St. Mark shows, how early the full meaning of Christ's words was
misinterpreted by prosaic apologetic attempts, that failed to fathom their
depth. For, Christ called sinners to better and higher than repentance, even to
Himself and His Kingdom; and to 'emendate' the original record by introducing
these words from another Gospel97
marks a purpose, indicative of retrogression. And this saying of Christ
concerning the purpose of His Incarnation and Work: 'to call not righteous men,
but sinners,' also marks the standpoint of the Christ, and the relation which
each of us, according to his view of self, of righteousness, and of sin -
personally, voluntarily, and deliberately - occupies towards the Kingdom and
96. Mark the absence of the Article.
97. See the note on p. 507.
The history of the call of St. Matthew has also another, to
some extent subordinate, historical interest, for it was no doubt speedily
followed by the calling of the other Apostles.98
This is the chronological succession in the Synoptic narratives. It also
affords some insight into the history of those, whom the Lord chose as bearers
of His Gospel. The difficulties connected with tracing the family descent or
possible relationship between the Apostles are so great, that we must forego
all hope of arriving at any certain conclusion. Without, therefore, entering on
details about the genealogy of the Apostles, and the varied arrangement of
their names in the Gospels, which, with whatever uncertainty remaining in the
end, may be learned from any work on the subject, some points at least seem
clear. First, it appears that only the calling of those to the Apostolate is
related, which in some sense is typical, viz. that of Peter and Andrew, of
James and John, of Philip and Bartholomew (or Bar Telamyon, or Temalyon,99
generally supposed the same as Nathanael), and of Matthew the publican. Yet,
secondly, there is something which attaches to each of the others. Thomas, who
is called Didymus (which means 'twin'), is closely connected with Matthew, both
in St. Luke's Gospel and in that of St. Matthew himself. James is expressly
named as the son of Alph�us or Clopas.100101
This we know to have been also the name of Matthew-Levi's father. But, as the
name was a common one, no inference can be drawn from it, and it does not seem
likely that the father of Matthew was also that of James, Judas, and Simon, for
these three seem to have been brothers. Judas is designated by St. Matthew as
Lebbaeus, from the Hebrew lebh, a heart, and is also named, both by him
and by St. Mark, Thadd�us - a term which, however, we would not derive, as is
commonly done, from thad, the 'female breast,' but following the analogy
of the Jewish name Thodah, from 'praise.'102
In that case both Lebb�us and Thadd�us would point to the heartiness and the
Thanksgiving of the Apostle, and hence to his character. St. Luke simply
designates him Judas of James, which means that he was the brother (less
probably, the son) of James.103
Thus his real name would have been Judas Lebb�us, and his surname Thadd�us.
Closely connected with these two we have in all the Gospels, Simon, surnamed
Zelotes or Canan�an (not Canaanite), both terms indicating his original
connection with the Galilean Zealot party, the 'Zealots for the Law.'104
His position in the Apostolic Catalogue, and the testimony of Hegesippus,105
seem to point him out as the son of Clopas, and brother of James, and of Judas
Lebb�us. These three were, in a sense, cousins of Christ, since, according to
Hegesippus, Clopas was the brother of Joseph, while the sons of Zebedee were
real cousins, their mother Salome being a sister of the Virgin.106
Lastly, we have Judas Iscariot, or Ish Kerioth, 'a man of Kerioth,' a
town in Judah.107
Thus the betrayer alone would be of Jud�an origin, the others all of Galilean;
and this may throw light on not a little in his after-history.
98. St. Matt. x. 2-4; St. Mark iii. 13-19; St. Luke vi. 12-19.
99. Vayyik. R. 6; Pesiq, R. 22, ed. Friedm. p. 113 a.
100. St. John xix. 25.
101. Thus he would be the same as 'James the Less,' or rather 'the Little,' a son of Mary, the sister-in-law of the Virgin-Mother.
102. As is done in the Rabbinic story where Thadd�us appeals to Ps. c. 1
(superscription) to save his life, while the Rabbis reply by appealing to Ps. l. 23: 'Whoso offereth praise (thodah) glorifieth Me' (Sanh. 43 a, Chesr. haSh.).
103. St. Luke vi. 15; comp. St. John xiv. 22.
104. War. iv. 3, 9.
105. Euseb. H. E. iii. 11; iv. 22.
106. As to the identity of the names Alphaeus and Clopas, comp. Wetzel in the Theol. Stud. u. Krit. for 1883, Heft iii. See also further remarks on the sons of Clopas, in the comment on St. John xix. 25 in Book V. ch. xv.
107. Josh. xv. 25.
No further reference than this briefest sketch seems necessary,
although on comparison it is clear that the Apostolic Catalogues in the Gospels
are ranged in three groups, each of them beginning with respectively the same
name (Simon, Philip, and James the son of Alphaeus). This, however, we may
remark - how narrow, after all, was the Apostolic circle, and how closely
connected most of its members. And yet, as we remember the history of their
calling, or those notices attached to their names which afford a glimpse into
their history, it was a circle, thoroughly representative of those who would
gather around the Christ. Most marked and most solemn of all, it was after a
night of solitary prayer on the mountain-side, that Jesus at early dawn 'called
His disciples, and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named Apostles,' 'that
they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach, and to
have power to heal sickness and to cast out devils.'108
108. As to the designation Boanerges (sons of thunder), see note 2, p. 514.