Multiple sources

The messianic banquet

An important host gives a great banquet, but the intended guests make excuses. Then other guests are invited, or even compelled to participate. This is the core of the parable of the great banquet. There are three versions of this parable, Matthew 22:1-14, Luke 14:15-24 and the gospel of Thomas 64. The latter version is the shortest, Matthew the longest. On the forum, Ben C. Smith recently asked which version was the original. In his opinion the versions in the gospel of Luke and the gospel of Thomas (part of the Nag Hammadi Library) are original, while the gospel of Matthew contains two additions: verse 6-7 and verse 11-14.

In the discussion of this subject I have drawn attention to two texts that are closely connected to the banquet story.

The first of both is Luke 7:22-23, which goes as follows: Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.

The Lukan version of the parable has the following invitation for the alternative guests (v. 21b): Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’

Three categories of people are identical: the blind, the lame and the poor.

The second related text is the Dead Sea Scrolls text 4Q521 called ‘A Messianic Apocalypse’, of which fragment 2 goes as follows:

[the hea]vens and the earth will listen to His Messiah, and none therein
will stray from the commandments of the holy ones.

Seekers of the Lord, strengthen yourselves in His service!

All you hopeful in (your) heart, will you not find the Lord in this?

For the Lord will consider the pious and call the righteous by name.

Over the poor His spirit will hover and will renew the faithful with His power

And He will glorify the pious on the throne of the eternal Kingdom.

He who liberates the captives, restores sight to the blind, straightens the b[ent]

And f[or] ever I will clea[ve to the h]opeful and in His mercy …

And the fr[uit …] will not be delayed for anyone

And the Lord will accomplish things which have never been as [He …]

For He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor

… He will lead the uprooted and make the rich hungry …

4Q521 mentions ‘the eternal Kingdom’ and ‘the Messiah’, while the Lukan parable similarly mentions ‘the kingdom of God’ and ‘the servant’ (a term for the Messiah, particularly in Isaiah). Among many Essene self-designations in 4Q521 (the pious, the righteous, the faithful), Luke 14:21 as well as 7:23 mention one of these: the poor. Here also we have a similar list of addressed people: captives/blind/bent in 4Q521 versus maimed/blind/lame in Luke 14. 4Q521 seems to describe the future messianic era, while the parable describes the realization of the messianic dream, in both cases with God the master and his servant the messiah as protagonists. The story has a social undertone that reminds of the letter of James. Neither the rich landowner (two times ‘bought’ in an agricultural context) nor well-to-do are welcome, but the humble categories that the Qumran Essenes had described before in one of their messianic writings. God’s anger seems to be directed towards the rich people.

The second to last line of 4Q521 places ‘heal the wounded’ and ‘revive the dead’ next to each other. This verse might have tempted the author of the first gospel (Mark) to change Jesus’ fate of a wounded man who was healed into the fate of a dead man who revived.

There also seems to be a connection between the last line of 4Q521 and Luke 1:53: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.”

Concerning the reconstruction of the text, in my opinion verses Luke 14:22b-24 are alien to the symmetrical original message. The element of compelling is absent in Thomas 64, and the story in Luke logically ends with verse 22a, after the two categories of guests have been confronted.

(Introduction and first invitation)
(16) He [Jesus] said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; (17) and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for all is now ready.’

(Excuses from the intended guests)

(18) But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ (19) And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ (20) And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ (21) So the servant came and reported this to his master.

(The second invitation)

Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ (22) And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done.’