Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Wedding clothes

Related imageThe parable in Matthew 22:1 is famous for its redactional afterthought: after the story proper, the King sees a guest who wears no wedding clothes (v. 11 ff). The angry king has the man thrown out. But is the pericope really an afterthought?
      Consider the following ancient story:[1]
When R. Eliezer said, ‘Repent, even if only one day before your death,’ his disciples asked him, ‘Does any man know what day he will die?’ R. Eliezer: ‘Then all the more reason that he repent today. For should he die tomorrow, his entire life will have been spent in repentance . . .’ Regarding this, Rabban Yohannan ben Zakkai said: The matter may be illustrated by the parable of a king who invited his servants to a banquet without designating the precise time. The wise ones among them adorned them­selves and sat at the entrance to the palace, for they said, ‘Is anything lacking in a royal palace?’ The fool­ish went to their work, saying, ‘Can there be a banquet without preliminary preparation?’ Sudd­en­ly, the king called for his servants: the wise entered his presence adorned, while the foolish entered his presence wearing their soiled [working clothes]. The king rejoiced in welcoming the wise, but was angry with the foolish. ‘Let those who have adorned themselves for the banquet, sit, eat, and drink,’ he ordered. But let those who did not adorn themselves for the banquet remain standing and watch.’
The retelling of the parable (above) has remarkable similarities to both the parable in Matthew, but also the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1, who wait at the gate for the bride­groom’s arrival.
      Is the pericope in Matthew a redactional afterthought? Perhaps surprisingly, no.

[1] Shabbat 53a; quoted in Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky, The Book of Legends, New York, p. 545, as cited in, Ariel, David S., What Do Jews Believe?, (London: Rider, 1995)

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