Jewish temple

A prophet acting out a parable: Why did Jesus choose to curse a fig tree?

A prophet acting out a parable: Why did Jesus choose to curse a fig tree?

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

What is the significance of Jesus cursing the fig tree?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Our discussion will focus on the Gospel of Mark (11:12-14 and 20-26) rather than the briefer parallel version in Matthew (21:18-22), which most experts think was written down later. Mark records the following:

Jesus was traveling with his disciples to Jerusalem, where he was to “cleanse” the temple by driving out devious money-changers and sellers of birds for sacrifice. He was hungry and spotted a fig tree. Seen from the distance, it showed leaves, but close up there was no fruit. Jesus declared that no-one would ever again eat fruit from this tree. Returning from the temple the next day the disciples saw that the tree had withered down to its roots. (Matthew puts the “cursing” after the “cleansing” and says the tree withered immediately.)

Scholarly British Bishop N.T. Wright says this narrative “looks most peculiar,” and it’s “one of the most difficult in the Gospels” in the view of D.E. Nineham at the University of London. That’s because, as Hugh Anderson of the University of Edinburgh observed, the cursing of the fig tree was Jesus’ only reported miracle of “destruction” rather than restoration, so at first glance it seems “out of character” if not “irrational.”

Interpreters see significance in Mark’s literary “sandwich” with the temple assault enclosed within two halves of the fig tree account. It’s important to realize that the fig tree is a symbol for the Israelite nation in many Old Testament passages, an apt poetic device due to this fruit’s importance for the regional diet.

Jesus was not angry over his hunger, and certainly not angry at a tree.

Rather, scholars tell us, he was filling the role of a Jewish prophet like many before him.

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Religion Writing 101: Parsing the language of true believers at the Dome of the Rock

Religion Writing 101: Parsing the language of true believers at the Dome of the Rock

Let's talk Religion Writing 101 for a moment. Which of the following statements is most appropriate in a mainstream news publication? 

I. "The crowd gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient sanctuary containing the tomb where Jesus Christ was raised from the dead."

II. "The crowd gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient sanctuary containing the remains of a tomb where Christians believe Jesus was raised from the dead."

III. "The crowd gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient sanctuary containing the remains of a tomb that early Christians said is the place where Jesus was raised from the dead."

What is going on in these three wordings?

The first accepts a statement of Christian faith as historical fact, with no attribution of any kind. This language is often seen -- appropriately so -- in traditional Christian publications.

The second uses the word "believe" as part of this journalistic equation, noting that this fact claim is something Christians believe, while others may disagree.

The third statement adds more content with its factual reference to the early church, which gives the claim some authority, yet also accurately implies that (a) many Christians (especially Protestants) disagree that this sanctuary contains the site of the resurrection and/or (b) that some doctrinal progressives reject belief in the resurrection, yet continue to identify as Christians. Whenever possible, I'm an option III guy.

Why bring this up? This is actually a relevant topic in light of some interesting language in a Washington Post story that ran under the headline, "Meet the Israeli mom who called Muhammad a pig -- at al-Aqsa mosque."

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