In the liturgical churches (and some others) today was 'Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion,' in
which Jesus' (final) entry into Jerusalem takes place and, subsequently, He is arrested, tried,
Of the historical details that get debated, I would propose that these are the most reliable;
that is, I think just about all of us can agree that some man named Jesus was preaching in and
around Jerusalem for some period of time, was arrested, presumably summarily tried, and crucified
under the governorship of Pontius Pilate. And, specifically, that Jesus entered Jerusalem in
some dramatic fashion, recognized by a number of followers, and caused some sort of ruckus
in the Temple. Obviously, Christians and non-Christians will obviously debate the significance
of these events, but that is not the purpose of this thread.
So, given that these events are the most reliable (and, in fact, set the stage for the most
important theological dogmas -- that is, the Sacrifice [and it's meaning] and the Resurrection),
I was reflecting on these passages today. And -- lo and behold -- there are irreconcilable
contradictions even in these passages, the ones considered the most reliable.
Consider the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Confer with the Gospels of Sts Matthew (chapter
21, verses 1-22), Mark (chapter 11, verses 1-25), and John (chapter 12, verses 12-19).
In the Gospel of St Matthew, the events occur in the following progression:
The Disciples procure an ass and colt and Jesus enters Jerusalem (1-11);
Jesus cleanses the Temple (12-16);
Jesus leaves for Bethany (17);
The next morning, Jesus curses the fig tree which withers immediately, to the Disciples amazement (18-21).
In the Gospel of St Mark, the events occur in the following progression:
The Disciples procure a colt (no ass, noun declensions indicate singular) and Jesus enters Jerusalem (1-10);
Jesus enters the Temple and 'looks around' and then goes to Bethany (11);
The next morning, Jesus curses the fig tree and the Disciples heard the curse (12-14);
Jesus cleanses the Temple (15-18);
Evening falls, and they leave the city again (19);
The next morning, the Disciples notice and comment upon the fig tree which is now withered (20-26).
In the Gospel of St John, the events occur in the following progression:
Jesus procures His own ass (not a colt, and the noun is declined in the singular again) and Jesus enters Jerusalem (12-15).
The cleansing doesn't even occur at this time for Saint John -- it occurs at the beginning
of Jesus' ministry (see chapter 2, verses 13-22).
(And no fig tree, but a complete omission is a minor concern.)
Now, the English-translation Bible I generally use (the NAB) has copious footnotes addressing
these contradictions. That is, not only do the editors of this Bible try to ignore the contradictions,
but they bring them to the readers' attentions. And, rather than try to harmonize them, they
observe that the Gospel writers had different aims and ordered, edited and altered the stories
in ways consistent with the individual author's particular hermeneutic.
Consider this note, regarding two animals in St Matthew versus one in the other Gospels:
"Instead of the one animal of Mk 11:2, Mt has two, as demanded by his understanding of Zec 9:9."
and regarding Jesus' sitting on two animals: "an awkward picture resulting from Matthew's misunderstanding
of the prophecy." (emphasis mine)
Or, consider this note regarding the reordering of events for the cleansing of the Temple:
"Matthew changes the order of Mk and places the cleansing of the temple on the same day as
the entry into Jerusalem, immediately after it. The activities going on in the temple were not
secular but connected with the temple worship. Thus Jesus' attack on those so engaged and his
charge that they were making God's house of prayer a den of thieves constituted a claim to
authority over the religious practices of Israel and were a challenge to the priestly authorities."
Finally, consider this note regarding the fig trees:
"In Mk the effect of Jesus' cursing the fig tree is not immediate...By making it so, Matthew has
heightened the miracle....
Evidently, the Roman Catholic Church (the publisher of this Bible translation) has no difficulty
1) The idea that contradictions exist;
2) The idea that the various authors of the Gospels (and other books) have edited, changed,
added and omitted stories to suit their particular hermeneutical interests;
3) Bringing attention and theological scholarship to bear on these changes to their faithful; and
4) That the books remain fully inspired by the Holy Spirit.
How do literalists:
A) Confront harmonizing these irreconcilable accounts; and
B) Address the issue that other churches (such as the RCC) don't strive to harmonize them, but
embrace and explain their differences. Why is this option so untenable?
P.S., I also never noticed that St Matthew has Jesus mocked in a scarlet military cloak
(27:28) but two other Gospels record that He was mocked in a purple cloak (cf. St Mark 15:17,
St John 19:2; St Luke makes no comment the color of the cloak in 23:11). Given that
scarlet (red leaning towards orange) and purple are totally different, I thought it deserved
mention (and, like above, the NAB calls attention to it in a note).