But to continue this study, I want to look now at the NT authors and ask the basic question of influences.
He was a tax-collector (customs official) in the small town of Capernum, in the country of Galilee.
So, what do we know about tax-collectors, Capernum, and Galillee, with regard to foreign influences?
In the time frame we are concerned with (basically, the lifespan of each reputed NT author prior to meeting Jesus--probably 15 BC To 30 AD), there were several different kinds of taxes levied in the different parts of Palestine. There were the Roman taxes on property and people (e.g. the poll-tax), there were the import/export customs on trade, there were regional/ municipal levies, and there were religious taxes, such as the temple-tax.
The Roman taxes were the responsibility of the head of state in each country, and the religious taxes were the responsibility of local groups throughout the world [JPB:52, 84,156]. However, customs taxes were auctioned/leased out to the highest bidder, and administered through a network [HJP:1.2.17, p.71ff]. In the case of Matthew, he was a lower level customs collector, probably from Capernaum, who reported up through a chain of command to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, who lived in the city of Tiberas. The proceeds from the toll went into Antipas' pockets, not Rome's--with the collectors pocketing a good bit of the overcharge themselves.
Matthew would have had a toll-both on the major thoroughfare into Gaulanitis (Golan Heights) [SHJ:136]. Capernaum was connected via the Wadi Beth ha-Kerem to Acco-Ptolemais [NTSE:93], and formed a major hub on the trade to/from Tyre and the regions east of the Sea of Galilee--Philip's territory and the Decapolis [GLA:16].
Tax-collectors were a wealthy lot, although they were ostracized by the local populace (probably) and religious authorities of Judaism (definitely). They had social connections with other tax-collectors (e.g. Mt 9:10: "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and 'sinners' came and ate with him and his disciples. "), and would have had enough wide linguistic skills to maintain social contacts with other 'outcasts' such as Gentiles, certain types of herdsmen, and usurers.
On the other hand they were both despised by the locals and altogether rejected by the religious establishment of Jewry. Since they levied tariffs on even the basic necessities of life needed by the peasantry, they were despised by the locals [HFJ:229].
But it is the religious and civic rejection that is most striking in this case. The later Rabbinic writings (seeming to agree with the general picture of the Gospels) portray the religious establishment as rendering the tax-collector as almost impossible to save. Jeremias, in discussing the "despised trade lists" in the literature [JTJ:chapter 14], shows the almost irredeemable nature of tax-collectors [p. 310-311]:
"In the same way experience had shown that tax- collectors and publicans, whose post went to the highest bidder, together with their subordinates, almost always abused their position to enrich themselves by dishonesty. 'For herdsmen, tax collectors and publicans is repentance hard', it was once said (b. B.K. 94b Bar.). The reason was that they could never know every person they had injured or cheated, and to whom they must make amends."E.P. Sanders points out that this judgment was based on the conviction that these trades were usurious [HJ:34-35], and a radical violation of Leviticus 25.36-38.
But it gets worse...The literature about tax-collectors (of all types, by the way) is almost unanimous in painting tax-collectors as greedy and dishonest, with only one exception by Josephus [HFJ:228-229]. In fact, in the Rabbinic material (Nedarim iii.4) it was okay for the common Jew to lie to one about his property (!), and beggars and merchants were not even supposed to take money from their cash-box (Baba kamma 10.1,2) [for discussion, see Schurer, HJP:1.2.17, p. 71, note 108].
But it gets worse yet...If the later rabbinic traditions DO have a substantial measure of applicability to the earlier setting we are discussing, then Jeremias' discussion of 'official' viewpoints of tax-collectors points to abject civil rejection as well [JTJ:311-312]:
"Characteristically, linguistic custom associates tax-collectors and thieves (M. Toh. vii.6), publicans and robbers (M.B.K. x.2; b. Shebu. 39a Bar.; cf. Luke 18.II; M. Ned. iii.4; Derek eres 2); tax-collectors, robbers, money-changers and publicans (Derek eres 2); publicans and sinners (Mark 2.I5f; Matt. 9.10f.; Luke 5.30; Matt. 11.19 par. Luke 7.34; Luke 15.If) ; publicans and Gentiles (Matt. 18.17); publicans and harlots (Matt. 21.31f); extortioners, impostors, adulterers and publicans (Luke 18.11); murderers, robbers and taxgatherers (M. Ned. iii.4); indeed 'publican' was generally almost a synonym for 'sinner' (Luke 19.7). It was forbidden to accept alms for the poor or to use money for exchange, from 'the counter of excisemen or from the wallet of tax-gatherers', for such money was tainted. If tax-collectors and publicans had belonged to a Pharisaic community before taking on the office, they were expelled and could not be reinstated until they had given up the posts (T. Dem. iii.4, 49; j. Dem. ii.3, 23a.10)."On the other hand, we have no way of knowing to what extent these rabbinic admonitions and perspectives would have been shared by the populace of Capernaum--although, as Galileans they were certainly in conflict with other rabbinic traditions in other settings. Although only 5% of the Palestinian populace of the day was even associated with a "party" (i.e. Pharisee, Sadducee, Zealot, Essene) [NTF:90], the Pharisees played a very important part in public life, due largely to their close connection with country, lay-run synagogues [NTF:80, 85-86].
"But men who followed the trades in list IV were not only despised, nay hated, by the people; they were de jure and officially deprived of rights and ostracized. Anyone engaging in such trades could never be a judge, and his inadmissibility as a witness put him on the same footing as a gentile slave (M.R. Sh. i.8). In other words he was deprived of civil and political rights to which every Israelite had claim, even those such as bastards who were of seriously blemished descent. This makes us realize the enormity of Jesus' act in calling a publican to be one of his intimate disciples (Matt. 9.9 par.; 10.3), and announcing the Good News to publicans and 'sinners' by sitting down to eat with them."
But overall, we get
a view of Matthew as a wealthy, unpopular, ostracized Jew in the town of
Capernaum. His employer would have been Herod Antipas (not as bad as his
predecessors, but not really popular at the time--see below). He would
have not had access to the traditional Jewish cultic rituals that presupposed
Jerusalem or official sanction (e.g. public feasts). As a highly literate
individual (and probably selected for the post in part due to that), and
as probably a Jew, he would have had perhaps better-than-average access
to the biblical materials as well. His social circles would have been with
"outcasts" (many wealthy and/or aristocratic and/or official personages).
What do we know about Capernaum at the time?
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering." 7 Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him." 8 The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, `Go,' and he goes; and that one, `Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, `Do this,' and he does it." 10 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.This soldier would not actually have been a Roman centurion, but an auxilliary centurion, likely chosen from the surrounding areas of Caesarea and the Decapolis [RLRS:124; GLA:104], perhaps even commanding a group of Hellenistic-Jewish soldiers [EBC, in. loc. Matt 8.5] in service to Herod. On a border town, especially a major trade route, they would be a 'peacekeeping' force. There was a Roman road there, which typically had soldiers stationed there for police activities (e.g. retarding bandits and brigands) [Atlas of the Roman World, Facts on File:1982, p. 156-157].
This centurion is painted in glowing terms by Luke (in his parallel account), in virtue of his attitude toward the Jews of the city, with the additional historical detail (luke 7.2f):The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." 6 So Jesus went with them. .
There is an interesting piece of archaeological data that illuminates this [BAFCSP:203-204]:
"Perhaps archaeology also has something to contribute. The splendid limestone synagogue visible today in Capernaum is to be dated to the end of the 4th century AD. But underneath the assembly hall lies a basalt building of the same ground plan. By means of the ceramics below the walls that earlier building was dated by S. Loffreda to the 3rd century AD. Exactly under the central nave of the two later buildings is located a pavement of basalt stones dating back to the 1st century AD. According to Loffreda we have here the remains of the centurion's synagogue. Nearby, but separated by an uninhabited piece of land, V. Tsaferis found other houses of the 1st century AD. They were built in a better fashion than the houses of the main settlement, and one of them was a typical Roman bathhouse. We may think of the centurion living here, separated as a pagan mercenary (cf. Lk 7.6) from the Jewish village."Although in normal circumstances one could expect the Roman soldiers to be "missionaries" for the imperial cult (and in a century or two later, for the cult of Mithras), in the case of local militia/mercenaries, this would not typically be the case. Instead, they would be 'carriers' for the local religions of THEIR source of origin. In this case we have a centurion who was obviously impressed with the beauty and strength of the core Jewish faith.
Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. 48 "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe." 49 The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies." 50 Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live." The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, "The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour." 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed.The term 'royal official' probably refers to an officer of Herods (so Morris, NICNT: in.loc.). He was probably the local representative in Capernaum, overseeing the town and reporting up through the toparch intermediary (see below). He could very easily have been a Jew, but there is no indication one way or another in the passage. That he is called "royal" indicates a close connection with Herodian authority.
So, what do we know about Galilee?
"The common people were alienated from official religion. No matter how much they admired the zeal of the Pharisees and were impressed by the grandeur of the temple ritual, accepting the religious regimen was, for the mass of them, an invitation to assume a heavy yoke."
Well, what are the possibilities?
Most historical reference works on this period/area do not mention the religions of the Far East as plausible candidates for 'influence'. So John Ferguson, in his book The Religions of the Roman Empire [Cornell:1970] does not even list or discuss these religions as players. The only references to India and China are Post-Jesus (Apollonius, p. 51; and Basilides, p. 131). Likewise, NTSE surveys the practical options, describing three basic options in the core NT setting: Olympian deities (Greek/Roman gods), the Imperial Cult ("Emperor" worship), Mystery Religions (MR's)--both Greek and Oriental--but does NOT list other 'candidates' such as Buddhism or Hinduism. And most of the references to 'influence' are too late for our period. So Frend, mentions Buddhist influences on Mani (early 3rd century AD heretic) and on Clement of Alexandria (same time period) [FRC:315ff; 372]. His quote about Clement shows that this situation was a novel one for the West, and one that by its time-frame, would not have been operative in NT times [p.372]:
"Nonetheless, Clement's ideal would not have been unacceptable to his Gnostic opponents and seemed even to be more Buddhist than Christian. His knowledge of Indian religion, shown by his numerous if critical references to Indian customs and the correct distinction he bade between the Brahmins and Sarmanians, may be more relevant to his outlook than is sometimes admitted. The early third century saw strong links being made between the Roman Empire and India and these links affected thought as well as trade."The Silk and Spice routes flourished in the 1st few centuries AD (largely through Egypt) [Atlas of the Greek World, Facts on File, page 186].
The interplay between the Greek/Roman empires and the regions/religions of the Far East is a very, very complex one.
The situation for China is perhaps the easiest to understand [RW:304]:
"Until the opening of the Silk Road in the first century B.C., communication across the land and sea spaces between China and western Asia was too slight to leave traces at either end."The situation with Indian thought is a bit more complex but may be summarized under the following ideas:
"On the whole, diffracted elements of Hellenistic civilization attracted a larger share of favorable attention than did the achievements of any of the other cultures of the world between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. The history of art gives the clearest evidence for this; for both Indian and Chinese art styles of the period were profoundly affected by Greek sculpture. In religion and in science, a parallel, though less striking, process may be detected. Mahayana Buddhism, for example, shows influence of Hellenistic religious conceptions, while Indian and Chinese astronomy and astrology appropriated numerous Hellenistic elements, though important local differences of course remained."and again [RW:304]:
"To sum up: India's development to the time of Alexander's invasion appears to have pursued lines laid down at the beginning of the fifth century or before. With the new intimacy between India and the hellenistic world that resulted from Alexander's venture, and with the rise of the 'philhellenic' Mauryan dynasty within India itself, new, though still comparatively superficial, foreign influences upon Indian society became apparent. The royal court patronized a westernizing art style, and perhaps promulgated Greco-Iranian patterns of administration and political theory. "We know, for example, of an early Buddhist sculptor in Gandhara (now Pakistan) who copied in stone a scene from a sub-Homeric epic showing the wooden horse at the fall of Troy--which he used as a miracle of the Buddha. Similarly, we have a silver cup from Tibet "of the finest post-Greek workmanship" with a scene on it which began life as an illustration to Euripides [Atlas of the Greek World, p. 189].
After Alexander died, his empire divided into several pieces--one of which was called the Seleucid dynasty. In spite of the fact that the Seleucid and Mauryan dynasties were border-competitors, they still had a great deal of friendly interchange between them, and the first two kings of the Mauryan dynasty are referred to in Greek sources. The peace treaty between them in 303 BC included a marriage alliance, and Seleucus' ambassador Megasthenes lived for 10 years and traveled extensively in the Mauryan empire [WR:HI:71] during the reign of the founding king Chandragupta (Sandrocottos in the greek). Megasthenes gathered huge amounts of information about India and wrote a book (which is lost), many parts/information of which are preserved in the writings of Strabo, Arrian, and Diodorus [HSC:197].
There were two other greek-oriented contacts made with that empire--the 2nd Seleucid ambassador Deimarchos, and Dionysios an envoy from Ptolemaios Philadelphos--but neither of these left any writings [HSC:198]. Any information about religious practices of India at this point would have been concerning the brahmanical system. So Bachelor in WR:AW:7-8:
"Megasthenes lived for an entire decade in the heartland of the Buddha's dispensation, less than two hundred years after the Buddha's death--but there is no mention in the Indika of Buddhist monks. At the time of Megasthenes, Buddhism was a small sect with no influential followers. Chandragupta, a staunch upholder of brahmanical values, was certainly no Buddhist. And Kautilya, Chandragupta's chief minister, fails to even mention Buddhism in his famous book on statecraft, the Arthashastra.The most famous of the three kings was the last--Ashoka. He was originally Hindu, but converted to Buddhist while on the throne. Although he is not mentioned in any greek sources, he "records having sent missions from India bearing his message of the victory of the Dharma [i.e. Buddhism in his life] to the Greek kings Antiochus II of Syria, Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) of Egypt, Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia, Magas of Cyrene and Alexander of Epirius...There is no mention in Western sources, however, of the arrival of any such missions." [WR:AW:9]. Until his death in 232 BC, he maintained frequent communications with the south and the west [WR:HI:73], even sending missionaries to Ceylon (definitely) and to the West (probably) [HSC:204].
"Yet within fifty years of Megasthenes' departure from India Buddhism had exploded across the subcontinent as the imperial philosophy of Chandragupta's grandson Ashoka. Europe, however, was to wait another fifteen hundred years (until 1255) before it received a first-hand report of Buddhism and its practices."
As the data and quotes above show, there was some, but very sporadic and limited information about the religious content of proto-Hinduism transmitted to the West, and even less about Buddhism.
"The essential difference between the Parthian empire and the Seleucid one which it partly replaced lies in the fact that the Seleucid rulers were of Greek origin and the main champions of Hellenism in Asia, while the Arsacids were Scythians or Asiatics, who were not at all hypnotized by Greek culture."
"All considered, it would seem that the Parthian empire was (at least in pre-Christian times) a barrier to the Hellenization of the East and the Orientalization of the West, rather than a channel for them. It was not a solid barrier, however, but a kind of grille or trellis permitting a little silk, as well as peaches and apricots, to move westward and pomegranates to go east."
"Commerce between Asia and the Roman Empire increased; luxury goods were imported from China; a community of Indian merchants was settled in Alexandria; an Indian holy man immolated himself in public in Athens; and a Ceylonese embassy reached the court of Claudius in Rome."These are, of course, all post-NT situations and the first mentions in the West of the Buddha were 2nd and 3rd century AD figures such as Clement and Basilides of Alexandria [WR:AW:27ff].
So that basically leaves us with the three options of NTSE:
"It remains true, however, that the Jews living in the towns of Capernum and Tarichaea were alienated from the Jews in the Greek cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias."Presumably, Matthew would have seen aspects of this in scattered contacts with magistrates and soldiers, but the absence of any regular center of the cult in Capernaum reduces the probability of influence considerably.
It is difficult to construct a plausible scenario in which Matthew would find any foreign ideas more attractive than the rudimentary Jewish faith that he no doubt originally had as a local resident.
One can easily see why Matthew would be disenchanted with official Judaism (since it would have radically marginalized and excluded him from specific forms of community ritual), but it is difficult to see how he would have abandoned a more basic form of personal faith in favor of the elaborate trappings of the foreign cults. The simple fact that he responded positively to a Galilean messianic figure so easily (Matt 9.9: As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. ) indicates at least some adherence to aspects of messianic Judaism. The most plausible scenario would have him as an aware, but non-practicing Jew, and not rather as a practicing member of the imperial cult (e.g. emperor worship) nor of any of the more exotic Olympian deities.
We do know that he did have a social circle constituted by other 'sinners', which would have included other of the despised trades (e.g. gamblers, camel drivers, bath attendants, select types of merchants). These would have been local Jews as well, at various levels of non-practice. How much social interaction he had with the higher-ups in the Hellenistic cities is unclear, but even the hierarchy in which he was positioned was generally filled with Jews. For example, the one good example of a tax collector was a Jew in Caesarea, and the 'bad' examples scorned by Josephus and Philo of Alexandria were also from large cities. His "social pressures" would have been still that of non-practicing or culturally-hellenized Judaism--NOT the pagan religions with which we are concerned here.
Given the infrequent contact that he would have had with any foreign religion (he would not have been at his 'post' ALL the time, plus he probably shared some of his duties with others--cf. Mt 9.10), it is likewise difficult to see how he would have been persuaded by any foreign "savior" figures or motifs, nor would he accrue any social and/or membership advantages of such religions.
In short, there does not seem to be any compelling reason (or even opportunity) for Matthew to adopt foreign religious theologies/praxis, and we actually have data that indicates his more basic Jewish faith.
Here we want to look at the opposite--what 'influences' would be operating on Matthew AGAINST adoption of foreign cults?
There are some factors in this category, which are mostly community and social.
This question is a fascinating one, and the data indicates a STRONG 'check and balance' environment This data falls into three categories: (1) indication that the NT documents are mostly group products; (2) indications of close interactions/associations among the authors; and (3) indications of relatively close apostolic oversight of the spread of the gospel content.
"Although the (synoptic) evangelists are probably identified correctly by the second-century sources, their individual role may be overstated there and indeed, with the possible exception of Luke, it is difficult to assess with any precision. In some of these sources, however, Matthew, Mark, and John are presented as arrangers of gospel traditions whose work, in the case of Mark and John, is then ratified by others. That is, they are participants in a corporate enterprise"
Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. (John 19.34-35)
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21.24)
"Such contemporary data suggests that the mention of those associated with Paul in the address should be explained in terms of the letter; that is, he selected them to play a role in the creation of the epistle as coauthors. It seems obvious that the recipients of such letters would have taken the 'we' at face value as referring to the senders." (p. 19)
"How did coauthorship work in practice? In light of what Pliny the Younger has said about his working habits (Letters 9.36)..., we might reasonably assume that, whereas Pliny communed with himself, Paul consulted his companions and, as the lead, did the actual dictation. Within this broad framework, however, circumstances influenced the exact procedure in each letter...At the time of the composition of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Paul was still a neophyte both as a leader and a writer. The committee of three (note: Paul, Silas, Timothy) produced the letters, and Paul kept his personal comments to the minimum. As the one dictating, however, he could interject without difficulty...The circumstances of 1 Corinthians were different." (p. 33)
"The canonical gospels, especially Matthew and Luke, were major works, written by leaders of great competence, and it is unlikely that knowledge of their projected books was kept secret. Rather, we would expect one evangelist to be glad of another's help while preparing his own work." [RMML:10].
"It was Paul's custom to name others together with himself as cosenders of his letters. This was probably not a formality but a reflection of the involvement of his associates in the conception, if not in the composition, of many of the letters. The evidence strongly suggests that Paul's missionary enterprise had a corporate structure and a school dimension..."
It is quite easy to demonstrate that the various writers/sources of NT documents were in constant communication and collaborative work. Some of the data are as follows:
"Confirmation of the picture in Acts comes from the fact that even Paul felt the power and authority of the Jerusalem church and the apostles. While Paul insists that his legitimacy as an apostle comes directly from Christ, he still reports that he found it necessary to go to Jerusalem at least twice and on one occasion to seek formal approval of his gospel from the apostles (Gal. 2.1-10). This would be most astounding if Paul did not feel that the apostles had at least some type of authority over the content of the tradition. Thus although Paul refuses to become dependent upon Jerusalem, he has the highest respect for the role of the community as a stronghold of pure doctrine and tradition".
"The Jerusalem council presupposes the authority of Jerusalem to decide the issue of Gentile Christians' obedience to the Law (Acts 15). Its decision binds not only Antioch and its daughter churches (15.22-31) but also the churches founded by Paul and Barnabas (16.4). When James recalls the decision in 21.25, the effect is to imply that Paul's Gentile mission is still subject to it."
In the case of Matthew, the issue of post-Easter history is easy--we have very, very little information about him. By far and away the most consistent data we have has to do with his authorship of the Gospel! Early tradition is unanimous in stating that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrewa and for Hebrews. Wenham discusses these witnesses in RMML, chapter 5 (i.e. Papias, Irenaeus, Pantaenus, Origen, Eusibius, Epiphanius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Gregory of Nazianzus, Chrysostom, Augustine, et. al.!).
The issue of literature is a bit more straightforward:
We have seen that: