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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The wilderness theme in the Gospels Przybylski, Benno


The main purpose of this thesis is to examine the wilderness terminology of the four canonical Gospels as a means toward understanding the peculiar views of the various evangelists toward the concept of the wilderness. For the purpose of this study, the wilderness terminology is restricted to the various forms of ερημος and έρημία. The redaction critical approach is utilized to identify the evangelists' views on the concept of the wilderness. Since redaction criticism attempts to see how inherited traditions have been modified, the use of sources underlying the Gospels is stressed. An investigation of the Gospel of Mark shows that Mark draws a sharp distinction between the meanings of the various terms of the wilderness terminology. Substantive ερημος occurs only in the Markan prologue (Mk 1:1-13), where it is used exclusively in connection with the fulfillment of the prophecy of Is 40:3. Substantive ερημος, thus is primarily a theological, rather than a geographical concept. Outside the prologue Jesus is no longer in the ερημος, but in the ερημος τόπος and in the έρημία. The use of έρημος τόπος is a sign of Mark's redactional activity. This term is used to point out the contrast between populated and unpopulated areas. "Eρημία is used only in Mk 8:4, where it has the connotation of warfare and suffering. Both έρηος τόπος and έρημία should be viewed in the light of Mark's polemic against the hellenistic υείος άνήρ christology. Although he uses Mark's three ways of referring to the wilderness, Matthew is not concerned with bringing out the different shades of meaning in these terms. For Matthew all wilderness terminology is potentially dangerous. In 24:26 Matthew warns against the danger of falling prey to a false messianic expectation associated with the wilderness. This anti-wilderness polemic is the key to Matthew's redactional activity insofar as the wilderness pericopae are concerned. For example, the anti-wilderness polemic provides a clue to Matthew's motive for reducing the powerful theological concept associated with Mark's use of ή έρημος, (1:4) to an explicitly geographical reference (Mt 3:l). It also explains why Matthew reports that the ninety-nine sheep were left "on the hills" (Mt 18:12) rather than "in the wilderness" (Lk 15:4). In the Gospel of Luke, no consistent concept of the wilderness can be found. The meaning Luke attaches to the wilderness is so ambiguous that even a city such as Bethsaida (Lk 9:10) can be referred to as a wilderness place (Lk 9:12). However, the use of the plural form of έρημος, peculiar to Luke, is very significant. The three occurrences of this term definitely indicate Luke's redactional activity. Consequently, the reference to the wilderness (plural) in Lk 1:80 cannot be used to establish a historical connection between John the Baptist and the Qumran community. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is never placed in a wilderness setting. The wilderness is mentioned in the course of the Johannine church-synagogue dialogue which concerns the relevance of the Mosaic messianic typology. However, John states very clearly that Jesus, as the Son of Man, rises above any messianic typology associated with the wilderness. Compared to Matthew's anti-wilderness polemic which is directed against specific religio-political events taking place in the wilderness, John's polemic is on a much more intellectual level. John is involved in a discussion of the value of the rabbinic messianic typology.

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