James W. Deardorff
November, 1992

Omission of "Nazareth" at Mt 13:54
The seriousness of the rejection at Nazareth
Nazareth omitted elsewhere?
A single solution to a two-fold problem

Omission of "Nazareth" at Mt 13:54. The peculiarity was noted by Francis Beare that at Mt 13:54, as in the parallel of Mk 6:1, Jesus' next stop during his ministry is stated to have been his fatherland or "home town" (patris). His native village of Nazareth is not named here.1 The reader, if he were encountering the gospel for the first time, would need to turn back 9 or 11 chapters within Matthew, or five chapters within Mark, to recall what this home town was, as it is not alluded to in the interim. Hence this is a peculiarity from the point of view that the writer of Matthew must have wished that his writing be understandable. Here we shall explore this oddity from the perspective of possible Matthean priority over Mark and Luke.

This Nazareth-omission problem is a special peculiarity within Matthew, as that gospel seems to have been written for Jews with a goal of converting them to the new Messianic form of Judaism.2 The writer of Matthew should then have been pleased to include the name of the Jewish home town of the Messiah at every opportunity. In fact, the town where Jesus presumably spent much of his youth and a good part of his life should have been the most honored town within all of Israel for the compiler of Matthew to extoll. But it is not.

If one assumes that Matthew follows and expands upon Mark, the problem is perhaps more severe than if one were to assume Matthean priority. For with Marcan priority, it is precisely at Mt 13:54 where the compiler of Matthew most definitely should have noticed his opportunity to fill in on the omission of Nazareth at Mk 6:1. It is therefore instructive to discuss the matter here within the framework in which the problem may seem least severe -- that of Matthean priority.3 This study, then, can be viewed as a brief example of exegesis as it could occur if Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine and Eusebius were correct in their statements indicating Matthean priority. Within that framework the testimony of Papias becomes relevant,4 and we shall assume that the compiler of Matthew had an extensive written source before him -- the Logia known to Papias -- which he felt free to alter while forming his own gospel.5 Although this latter subject is far too intricate to delve into here, one can readily perceive that the many redactions recognized to exist within Matthew can as easily be explained as that compiler's alterations to the basic text of the Logia as to assume they are additions to Mark.6

It might be supposed that "Iesous Nazarenos" was a well-known formula ever since Jesus' ministry, and remained so until (and after) the first Gospel appeared. In that case it could be argued that the compiler of Matthew may have desired to write "patris" instead of Nazareth here simply because Jesus' home town was already well known to potential readers. However, that argument is less cogent than that the compiler of Matthew should have wished to express the name "Nazareth" at every opportunity, and not having mentioned it in the previous nine chapters presented a strong opportunity for him to do so at Mt 13:54. In fact, a natural and plausible literary tendency would be for "Nazareth" to be mentioned in Mt 13:54 and "patris" in Mt 13:57, to avoid absolute redundancy or monotony.7

Beare suggested that "patris" was used instead of Nazareth in Mt 13:54 probably in anticipation of the "prophet without honor" proverb to be cited three verses later.8 However, the preceding argument indicates that the use of Nazareth in the first position and "patris" three verses later would have been more logical.

By the time the first Gospel appeared, which may not have been until early in the 2nd century,9 one cannot even assume it was still common knowledge that Nazareth had been Jesus' home town. The opposite is more plausible, since Paul, if he had known about it, did not write of it, nor did Clement I, nor Barnabas, nor Ignatius. In that case, only after reading his source document did the compiler of the first Gospel come to know it, and subsequently the other Gospel writers.

Once the omission of Nazareth here is seen as a problem, as Beare recognized, a more plausible solution than that proposed by Beare does come to mind. The compiler of Matthew was "punishing" Nazareth for having rejected Jesus, and the writer of Mark simply followed suit, probably unknowingly, at the point of parallelism in his gospel. That is, omitting the name of Nazareth in this section of his gospel constituted the compiler's punishment for the town. Evidently, this solution makes use of the arguments of G. F. Moore that there was indeed such a town as Nazareth.10

Although this solution might seem possible within the framework of Marcan priority, it is most feasible for Matthean priority, since Matthew's compiler was concerned with the fate of towns such as Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, which he deemed in dire need of redemption (Mt 11:21-24). The author of Mark, on the other hand, is believed to have written his gospel in Rome, if we give some weight to the patristic evidence from Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus.11 Mark's author would thus have had less reason to be concerned with the destiny of towns within Palestine, as indicated also by the absence of a Marcan parallel to Mt 11:20-24 and by the far fewer Judaisms within Mark than within Matthew. Thus it could hardly be proposed seriously that it was the writer of Mark who first omitted the name, Nazareth, with Matthew's compiler then following suit.

The compiler of Matthew could have expressed his dislike for the behavior of the residents of Nazareth in one of several ways. The first is by avoiding all mention of the rejection incident: Mt 13:53-58. However, this would have required maximal editorial intervention, and, moreover, would have deleted the favorable passages of Mt 13:54 and 56 along with the interesting proverb of Mt 13:57. A second is to have omitted just Mt 13:57-58, but that would also have omitted the proverb. A third is to have omitted just the two offensive statements: Mt 13:57a and 58. However, this would have left the proverb without a basis. A fourth way is to have inserted an upbraiding of Nazareth like that of Chorazin and Bethsaida (Mt 11:21), and a fifth is the proposed one of omitting the name, Nazareth, in the vicinity of the rejection story. This last suggestion is the most plausible if the compiler had been following a guideline of making the minimal editorial changes necessary to render his source text acceptable or tolerable. Such a policy seems to have been used in the formulation of parts of the OT, according to Richard Friedman.12

The seriousness of the rejection at Nazareth. There is additional internal evidence that indicates how seriously the early evangelists treated this matter of Jesus being either unwilling or unable to perform many miraculous deeds during his ministry in Nazareth. Luke's quite different rejection story seems designed primarily to rationalize the inadequacy of Jesus' performance there by comparing him to Elisha, whom God did not inspire to provide aid or healing except to a widow in Sidon and to Naaman, the Syrian, according to Lk 4:16-30. Then, the rejection by Nazareth in Luke could be attributed mainly to its citizens' anger over Jesus' sermon story due to its preference for non-Israelites, and not due to any failing of his healing powers. This subject was treated very seriously because of the competition Jesus' fame for healing encountered from other miracle workers, such as Apollonius of Tyana and Simon the magician of Acts 8:9.

With this solution, we see that although the first and third evangelists handled the rejection in totally different manners, they both felt it necessary to take editorial action over the matter. The writer of Luke is seen here as having improved upon Matthew's and Mark's rejection story by removing or ameliorating the embarrassment of Jesus being unable or unwilling to perform healings there.13 He could not omit the story altogether because, by the time of his writing, it was already too well known from Matthew and Mark. In this regard, many studies do uphold the conclusion that Luke makes use of Matthew in addition to Mark.14

Nazareth omitted elsewhere? In light of the present scholarly preference for Marcan priority, not Matthean, additional support for the present solution is desirable here. Hence, we consider the possibility that the compiler of Matthew omitted the name "Nazareth" a second time in the general vicinity of the rejection story, and inquire what additional exegetical problem, if any, might thereby come to light and be capable of solution. The closest point following the rejection at which Nazareth could plausibly have been explicitly mentioned within a Matthean source document corresponds to Mt 14:1. Suppose its parallel within the Logia had read something like, "At the time that Jesus taught in Nazareth, Herod the tetrarch heard about his fame." (The emphasized portion indicates the reconstructed or hypothesized portion of the source text.) In removing the name "Nazareth" here, too, as part of its punishment, the compiler of Matthew would have had to remove adjacent words from the first clause in order to maintain some sense; it is not unlikely that this would result in the present text: "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus."

Would such a relatively minor editorial alteration have created any problem? The answer is affirmative. It would have destroyed the original time setting in which the pericope of John's beheading was embedded. Instead of this pericope being a flashback occurring at a time some weeks earlier than when the story of Jesus' ministry resumes at Mt 14:13, it would force the pericope to occur at the same time. There would then be insufficient time for the beheading episode to have occurred and for John's disciples to have buried John's body and then to have sought out Jesus.

This problem does exist for the beheading-of-John pericope in Matthew, which otherwise reads as a flashback. Werner Kümmel is one who has noticed it to be a problem.15 Beare noted a different problem, that Jesus' rejection in Nazareth, coming just before Herod's comments in Matthew, would not likely have caused Herod to think of Jesus as John redivivus.16 With the present reconstruction, however, both objections vanish. Herod heard of Jesus' fame at the earlier time, before his rejection at Nazareth had occurred or before word of it had spread about to tarnish his fame.

The flashback problem is sufficiently obscure that it could well have escaped the attention of the editor-scribe who unintentionally created it, while being noticed by one or more later scribes, including the writer of Mark.

With the present solution, we see that after noticing the flashback problem within Matthew, the writer of Mark applied a correction. He altered Mt 14:12 so that instead of John's disciples seeking out Jesus to report what happened, it is Jesus' disciples who appear on the scene (Mk 6:30). It may also be argued that the writer of Mark placed the Mission of the Twelve late, relative to Matthew, as part of his attempt to solve Matthew's problem: there would then be some definite healings for Herod to have heard of immediately preceding the beheading story. Moreover, this latter alteration would provide a connection between his relocated Mission of the Twelve and his revision of Mt 14:13a into Mk 6:30.

Thus, the Marcan time frame permits the beheading story there to fit in as a flashback. However, this leads to the problems for Mark that (a) the healings effected by the twelve in Mark, just before Herod is mentioned, were not performed by Jesus and thus did little to regain his reputation after his rejection at Nazareth; (b) Mk 6:30-on has no connection to the beheading story; (c) while Mt 14:13 correctly mentions that it was "in a boat" (en ploio) that Jesus withdrew to a lonely place, since a boat had not been mentioned earlier in connection with these events, Mk 6:32 incorrectly presumes the presence already of Matthew's boat, and so refers to "in the boat" (en to ploio); and (d) in Mk 6:31-32 there is no good reason supplied why Jesus and the disciples would then have gone away to a deserted place. With Mt 14:13, however, the reason Jesus withdrew can be surmised to have been because of shock and sorrow over the beheading of the man he most respected.17

A single solution to a twofold problem. We see that this solution to the Nazareth-avoidance problem within Matthew also solves the beheading-of-John flashback problem in a mutually supportive manner. The deduction of a second avoidance of "Nazareth" by the compiler of Matthew in the same general area of text makes it more certain that the first avoidance was also purposeful, while restoring the proper time frame that solves the flashback problem.

The probable reason why this combined solution to the Nazareth-avoidance and flashback problems has not been set forth previously is that Mark's reordered and somewhat edited text, relative to Matthew, essentially prevents any such reconstruction from coming to mind if Marcan priority is taken for granted. That is, the present combined solution only exists with Matthean priority and is thus essentially irreversible, if Nazareth was purposefully avoided within Matthew. This then is but one more argument suggesting that the hypothesis of Matthean priority deserves renewed consideration.18 However, here we see no advantage to the Griesbach hypothesis (or two-gospel hypothesis) over the traditional Augustine hypothesis regarding Gospel priorities.19

In summary, it is plausible to expect that the author of the source document utilized by the compiler of Matthew would have written normally; i.e., would have reintroduced the particular name of a town (Nazareth) he had not mentioned in the previous nine chapters, rather than refer to it obliquely. It is just as plausible to suspect that the compiler of Matthew avoided using the name of Nazareth, where it had occurred near the rejection story within his source, as punishment or retribution for that rejection. We then find that shortly thereafter he likely rejected the name Nazareth a second time, causing the flashback problem for the beheading-of-John pericope.


1. Francis W. Beare, The Gospel according to Matthew (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981) 319.

2. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 3rd Ed. (Downer's Grove, Ill: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970) 25; Robert H. Gundry, Review of "The theme of Jewish persecution of Christians according to St. Matthew," JBL 87 (1968) 347.

3. There is renewed support for the Griesbach hypothesis of Matthew-Luke-Mark Gospel priority; e.g., see Arthur J. Bellinzoni, ed., The Two-Source Hypothesis: A Critical Appraisal (Macon, Ga.: Mercer Univ. Press, 1985), 21-217; and William R. Farmer, ed., New Synoptic Studies (Macon, Ga.: Mercer Univ. Press, 1983), 67-229. There is also fresh impetus in support of a modified form of the Augustinian hypothesis of Matthew-Mark-Luke priority, which updates the study of H. G. Jameson, The Origin of the Synoptic Gospels (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1922); see J. W. Deardorff, The Problems of New Testament Gospel Origins (San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1992).

4. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (EH), vol. 1, transl. K. Lake, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953) 297 (3.39.16).

5. According to Eusebius (EH vol. 1, 291, 3.39.1), Papias wrote five treatises interpreting the Logia; this can only mean that the Logia were very extensive and constituted something different than the Gospel of Matthew.

6. Deardorff, Gospel Origins, passim.

7. Dale C. Allison, "Peter and Cephas: One and the same," JBL 111 (1992) 491-492.

8. Beare, Gospel according to Matthew, 319.

9. Bellinzoni, "The Gospel of Matthew in the Second Century," The Second Century 9 (1992) 197-258.

10. George F. Moore, "Nazarene and Nazareth," in The Beginnings of Christianity, vol. 1, F.J.F. Jackson and K. Lake, eds. (London: Macmillan, 1920) 426-432.

11. See respectively Eusebius, EH, vol. 2, 49 (6.14.6-8), and "Irenaeus against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956) 414 (3.1.1).

12. Richard E. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: Summit Books, 1987) 226. Concerning Ezra as the likely final editor of the Torah, Friedman wrote "His only guideline seems to have been to retain as much of the original texts as possible without intolerable contradictions."

13. Here Mark's rejection story (6:1-5) is considered to be essentially a copy of Matthew's. The small alteration and addition there ("And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them") appear to be "change for the sake of change" akin to Mark's many pleonasms.
      An additional reason why Luke's rejection story appears to be a (lengthy) redaction, inserted into the writer's story of Jesus' first ministerial period in Nazareth instead of his second, is that the mention of Jesus having been in Capernaum in Lk 4:23 occurs prior to his visit there in Lk 4:31. See also Michael D. Goulder, Luke -- A New Paradigm (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989) 299-310.

14. E.g., see A. W. Argyle, "Evidence for the view that St. Luke used St. Matthew's Gospel," JBL 83 (1964) 390-96; W. R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis, 2nd Ed. (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1976), 128-141, 220-24; Jameson, Origin of the Synoptic Gospels, 26-53; E. P. Sanders, "The argument from order and the relationship between Matthew and Luke," NTS 15 (1969) 261; Werner Georg Kümmel, with P. Feine and J. Behm, Introduction to the New Testament, 14th Ed., A. J. Mattill, transl. (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1966) 50; and Goulder, Luke, 461.

15. Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, 76.

16. Beare, Gospel according to Matthew, 323.

17. E. Bammel, "Jesus as a political agent in a version of the Josippon," in Jesus and the Politics of his Day, E. Bammel and C. F. D. Moule, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 227.

18. E.g., see Farmer, Synoptic Problem, and Bellinzoni, ed., The Two-Source Hypothesis.

19. The main argument against the Augustine hypothesis has been that the behavior of Luke's writer is inexplicable if, while preferring Mark over Matthew, he disrespectfully failed to follow Matthew's order when borrowing from Matthew. However, this and related arguments are not irreversible, and can be traced back to theological commitment. Also, the most telling arguments against the Griesbach hypothesis come from its placement of Mark after Luke, rather than from Matthean priority. See Deardorff, Gospel Origins, 93-103, 157-175.
      For other reasons why Luke can be logically argued to be the last of the synoptic gospels, see Goulder, Luke, vols. 1 and 2.

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