Aug 19, 2009


One or Two Donkeys? The Prophecy of Zechariah 9:9

After Dustin accepted my answer for Matthew 28:2, he flipped a few pages in Ehrman’s book and asked me about Matthew’s version of the Triumphal Entry. The main issue Ehrman raises here is that only Matthew mentions the colt’s mother and certain translations may produce confusion about whether Jesus rode on both of the animals or only one.

We were sitting in the Starbucks at Rural and the 202 in Tempe and I just so happened to have brought my laptop. I opened up Logos and went to Geisler’s Popular Handbook of Difficulties for some help on this one. I scanned through Geisler’s entry and then related it back to Dustin. Here is the entry:

"Both animals were involved in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. There is no mistake in the accounts because Mark and Luke mention just the colt, and Matthew refers to the colt (21:5) and its mother. The passage in Matthew is pointing out the literal fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 which states, 'Behold your king is coming to you … humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'

The Greek version of the OT uses the same word for colt (p_olos) as the NT passages. Matthew literally states that once the disciples placed their garments on the donkeys, Jesus sat on them, that is, on their garments. Matthew does not say that Jesus rode on both the mother and the colt. It merely states that Jesus sat on the garments that the disciples had placed on the donkeys.

Perhaps they placed some garments on the mother and others on the colt, and Jesus sat on those garments which were placed on the colt. The fact is the text of Matthew simply does not say on which donkey Jesus sat. Mark and Luke focus on the colt on which Jesus rode, while Matthew mentions the presence of the colt’s mother.

Her presence may have been necessary because the colt was so young. Mark 11:12 states that no one had ridden on the colt, and that the colt would be taking a passenger through a noisy crowd (Mark 11:9). Perhaps the mother was brought along in order to be a calming influence upon her young."

We had a bit more trouble on this one because Ehrman makes the ridiculous assertion that Matthew pictures Jesus actually straddling both animals at once as he rides into town! In addition, the NRSV translates Zechariah 9:9 with the archaic Englsih “and on a cult” whereas the NASB uses “even on a cult”. Robertson comments upon this construction:

“These words give trouble if και [kai] is here taken to mean ‘and.’ Fritzsche argues that Jesus rode alternately upon each animal, a possible, but needless interpretation. In the Hebrew it means by common Hebrew parallelism ‘upon an ass, even upon a colt.’ That is obviously the meaning here in Matthew.”

I was a little disappointed with Ehrman here because I felt he should know better. Dustin may not be privy to the device of Hebrew parallelism so Ehrman was able to pull a fast one on him in my opinion.

Furthermore, we should allow the other Gospels to clarify the matter here and they all state Jesus rode upon one colt, even if Matthew is the only one who tells us that two – the second being the mother - came along for the journey.

Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, When Critics Ask : A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992), 353.

A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Vol.V c1932, Vol.VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.;Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), Mt 21:5.

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