Jewish Tradition: What's required when blindness cured?


#1

Matthew 9:27-31

As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him, crying out, “Son of David, have pity on us!” When he entered the house, the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I can do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they said to him. Then he touched their eyes and said, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.” And their eyes were opened. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread word of him through all that land.

If these two men were Jewish, what would they normally do?

Were people with blindness considered “unclean”? If so, then their cure would have made them clean, but only after ritual cleaning. So, then I assume that they would have gone to the temple for that ritual cleaning. A part of this ritual is for the Pharisees to determine if they are actually physically clean, and so this would have required that they end up violating his command to keep it quiet.

I suspect that it is important to understand this aspect of Jewish Tradition to understand this gospel reading. But, I’m not certain that any of my guesses are accurate. So, I’d like to get some correction if I have this wrong.


#2

It would be difficult for a guy who’s had his sight restored to hide that fact. :wink:

What Jesus is telling them is that He wanted them not to spread it around that He healed them. That’s all that’s going on here.


#3

You’re definitely in the right direction with your thinking, and I want to encourage you to continue. It’s an honour to talk to you! Blindness is not one of the things mentioned within Leviticus. The things that are mentioned in Leviticus are: leprosy, childbirth, menstruation, sexual intercourse, nocturnal emissions, touching a dead body, and maybe one or two others that I’m forgetting at the moment. These were purely penitential symbolic liturgical laws for the Temple or desert Tent, given by God, SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE OF the Golden Calf incident, to wean the people, believe it or not, from idolatry, which is the worship of “dead things.” Idolatry involved conjuring up a dead spirit into an item of worship (in reality these spirits were demons). Idolatry leads the people to “blindness” of the true God…the worshippers of idols become “dead” like the spirits-in-items that they worship (puffed up in pride, blind and deaf to the truth, and even demonically possessed). The idea in the Leviticus passages is that leprosy, childbirth, menstruation, etc, all involve a symbolic form of “death” (the soul is in the blood when it is shed in menstruation or childbirth, leprosy is a living form of decomposition and being cut off or “dead” to the worship community for its own safety, nocturnal emissions are “fruitlessness” in regards to procreation…the ancients believed that children were already within the father and the mother just continued the “building up” of the child…how much loss of life, then, was involved in even a fruitful act of sexual intercourse, etc). The idea is this: don’t bring your uncleanness (death), a symbolic association to idolatry, into the liturgical Temple where the Living God dwells! It reinforced the message that they were to shun idolatry.

That being said, however, there was a later Jewish Tradition (probably Pharisaical…the Essenes were more obsessed with dogs not being allowed within the Temple!) from around the first century BC, wherein it was argued that the blind and the lame are not to be given entrance into the Temple. The reason for this lies behind a legalistic interpretation of a passage from either the Books of Kings or Chronicles where, when King David was conquering Jerusalem, the hostile inhabitants therein mocked him by saying that he was so weak that the blind and the lame would keep him out. Blindness, therefore, was not considered symbolically unclean by the Scriptures but only by the tradition of the Pharisees. The blind would, therefore, need no inspection and penitential ritual cleansing, which the priests, and not the Pharisees, would perform. Such “proofs” were given to the priests in order to demonstrate that God, and God alone, had done the impossible (especially in the healing of leprosy).

Interestingly enough, while this passage does not take place in Jerusalem, or anywhere even near it, it does use “house” imagery, which alludes to the Temple (“when he entered the house”). I think it is making a veiled reference to Jesus being the true High Priest within the True House, not made with hands, the Holy Spirit. Also, this passage shows Jesus abrogating these unclean penitential laws…he touches a dead girl, allows himself to be touched by a woman with an emission of unclean blood, touches two blind men guilty of Pharisaic uncleaness, earlier in chapter 8, he touches a leper, and even wants to go into a gentile’s house (gentile houses were considered unclean because many gentiles performed abortions and buried their dead children underneath or near to their houses). Jesus himself is not rendered “unclean” because he remains the same after making others truly clean!


#4

This is the correct answer.
Jesus was not ready to reveal Himself and cautioned them not to incite the crowds.


#5

Thanks for your reply, Gorgias (and Happy Thanksgiving 2016!!)

I agree that I would be tempted to violate the command that Jesus was giving me if I received something so wonderful as restored sight. That would be so difficult to keep quiet.

Now, I have seen the same exegesis a number of places - that Jesus wanted the recipients of his healing grace to keep it under wraps because the news of this would interfere with his mission. However, in this case, I’m not able to get to that same conclusion. Jesus spent 30 years keeping his identity quiet. He knows how to do that. When Jesus cures the blind men, he has already entered his public ministry. His mode of operation is completely different from his years as a private person, and he is performing miracles for a reason - it is for the benefit of his mission. It isn’t reasonable to say that he just couldn’t help himself - he managed for 30 years seeing all sorts of very bad things along the way. And, all along the way, people were not healed in the manner seen in this section of Matthew.

Also, if he wanted to heal the blind men without them knowing it was him that did the healing, he made some serious mistakes. He could have healed them after he left the area where the blind men might have some doubt as to the cause of their recovery. But, no. He touches their eyes after asking them “Do you think that I can do this?” And then, boom - eyesight is restored. We know that he didn’t have to heal them in this manner, but he made the choice to leave no doubt in their minds that he healed them.

The text I quoted was Ch 9:27-31 The following is verse 26 which is in regards to the healing of the official’s daughter:

And news of this spread throughout all the land.

He didn’t give any commands to keep things quiet there, so the cat is out of the bag already prior to the experience with the two blind men.

Now, another thing about this that bothers me: How is it that two blind men know that Jesus is there in the first place? How do they know that Jesus can heal them? If Jesus thought his identity was a secret, he should know that if blind people know that he has the power to heal, then he should know that it’s “game over” for his secret.

And, then just a couple of verses later (verse 35), we get this:

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, curing every disease and illness.

We know that the blind men already knew Jesus could heal them. And, once we get to verse 35, so does everyone else in “all the towns and villages.” So, there has to be a meaning to this command for them to keep quiet.

The gospel of Matthew was written to people familiar with Jewish tradition. And, that is why I am interested in understanding how knowledge of Jewish tradition would affect the reading of this particular gospel.


#6

I understood “the official” that wanted to see that his daughter be healed by Jesus was a synagogue official. And, that person would have been keenly aware that Jesus would require ritual cleaning after being touched by the unclean woman. So, the synagogue official had to choose to either demand that Jesus stay away from his house for three days while he did the ritual cleaning, or to allow the technically unclean Jesus into his home so that his daughter could live. The official chooses the latter, and so I agree with you that Jesus is driving the point home very hard that the need for ritual cleaning is being discarded with the new covenant.

I like the information you provided with the blind people being kept out of the temple, and that probably has some bearing on the exegesis of this text. I’m still out of luck on seeing how the “strict admonition” to keep his healing of the blind men quiet makes any sense. There has to be a good reason for this, but I see none so far.

Thanks for providing this great information regarding the Jewish traditions relating to this gospel reading - I appreciate it very much.


#7

You know what’s amazing? I always was content to read this passage according to merely OT tradition, but you’re interpretation of this within Pharisaical interpretative tradition really does make the Text come alive again! For early Christians with such a leaning, this Text must have been provocative, challenging, and liberating! You know how rare it is to have such conversations?! I think you’re right. Rich Jewish people in the first century often had ritual baths in their homes. As a synagogue ruler, in an honour-based society, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was rich.

From what I learned, the strict admonition to silence has to do with the “Messianic Secret” theory proposed by many scholars, mostly of the Gospel according to St. Mark. The idea is that Jesus, only gradually, wants his true role and identity to be known. We see the Apostles coming, slowly, to greater and greater understanding of Jesus, and yet his goal to go to Jerusalem to be rejected and crucified still was over their heads. This is just a really quick thought, but maybe it has to do with the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah, especially chapter 53? We know that the bulk of fulfilment quotes that Matthew uses are from Isaiah. On the other hand, maybe Jesus wants silence because he doesn’t want others to know, yet, that he’s the Messiah. He silences the Apostles in Mark’s Gospel when Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Now, this might have something to do with the fact that if someone proclaimed themselves the Messiah, Roman authorities would have crushed them. This would be bad for Jesus to have happened early, since the “hour” had not come. We also know that, according to Second Temple longings, the Messiah was to rebuild the Temple (fulfilled in the Resurrection of Jesus and his Heavenly Enthronement), gather the lost tribes of Israel (eventually fulfilled in the territorial commision outlined within Acts 1), and do many other David-like things. However, we also know of the “war-messiah” theory also in vogue, which would have inspired the Zealots to war against Rome. Sorry for rambling…my brain’s fried at the moment, lol.


#8

It would. The thing is, Jesus seems not to have wanted to be known primarily as a ‘healer’. In those days, that wasn’t too uncommon an occurrence – itinerant ‘snake-oil salesmen’, as it were, were well-known by the populace. Jesus didn’t want to be type-cast in that way. (And, as it turns out, he was – everywhere he went, people wanted a ‘sign’ as proof that His teaching was real.)

Jesus spent 30 years keeping his identity quiet. He knows how to do that. When Jesus cures the blind men, he has already entered his public ministry. His mode of operation is completely different from his years as a private person, and he is performing miracles for a reason - it is for the benefit of his mission.

Right – healing as an indication that the messiah is here, not just that there’s a healer and prophet present.

Nevertheless, in this context, it’s the message that takes primacy. If he’s known only as a healer, then he’s ‘entertainment’, not ‘ministry’. That’s what He’s trying to avoid, I’d assert.

Also, if he wanted to heal the blind men without them knowing it was him that did the healing, he made some serious mistakes.

That’s not what He’s doing here. It isn’t that He doesn’t want them to know it was Him who healed… it’s that He doesn’t want them to spout the “he healed me!” story far and wide.

We know that he didn’t have to heal them in this manner, but he made the choice to leave no doubt in their minds that he healed them.

Right. And, why is it unreasonable to suggest that He wants this healing to be on the down-low (at least for the moment)?

The text I quoted was Ch 9:27-31 The following is verse 26 which is in regards to the healing of the official’s daughter:

He didn’t give any commands to keep things quiet there, so the cat is out of the bag already prior to the experience with the two blind men.

Notice that there’s plausible deniability there. :wink:

Now, another thing about this that bothers me: How is it that two blind men know that Jesus is there in the first place? How do they know that Jesus can heal them? If Jesus thought his identity was a secret, he should know that if blind people know that he has the power to heal, then he should know that it’s “game over” for his secret.

It’s not that His identity is a secret; it’s that He doesn’t want to be typecast.

The gospel of Matthew was written to people familiar with Jewish tradition. And, that is why I am interested in understanding how knowledge of Jewish tradition would affect the reading of this particular gospel.

I haven’t encountered anything that suggests that there’s an angle to this healing that depends on Jewish tradition. :shrug:


#9

Thanks for taking the time to walk through my objections to the “secret theory.”

For me, the problem that I have is that I am not seeing any support for the “Jesus has a secret” theory. And, there is plenty to point away from it:

  1. The blind guys use the term “Son of David” - a Messianic term. They are already calling him the Messiah.
  2. Even the blind guys know Jesus is a healer, and they have faith in his healing capability. There is no secret to Jesus being a healer, apparently. Verse 35 is also a problem for the secret theory since Jesus went to all the towns and villages curing all disease and illness.
  3. Why would Jesus do something that would destroy his mission? Was it an uncontrolled fit of compassion? He spent 30 years avoiding it - so the “fit of compassion” theory is falsified.
  4. It apparently didn’t matter that they couldn’t keep a secret. Did Jesus fail in his mission? Or, did he give a “strict admonition” for no reason? Why tell two blind people to keep a secret when it doesn’t matter what they do?
  5. Just prior to healing the blind guys, the woman who touches his clothes is healed. Jesus makes a point to stop and say, “Who touched me?” If he was trying to keep it a secret, he would have just moved along.

If there was some way to argue in favor of the “Jesus has a secret” theory, it would help me out. I don’t see Jesus saying that he has a fear of failing in his mission, such as saying that he is fearful of being attacked by Roman officials. And, I don’t see him saying that he has a plan to unfold his identity slowly. If there was some way to counterbalance the above list of problems for the secret theory, then I would be very interested in that understanding.

I wonder if the secret theory comes from contemporary times where the individual is the focus. What matters to many these days is that personal information must remain confidential. In the US, these HIPPA laws are remarkably stifling, and favor the individual to an extreme. I don’t think that the individual was the focus in the first century, but I could be mistaken on this, of course.


#10

If blind people were not permitted to enter the temple, what was the reason given? It seems like the prohibition of temple entrance could easily conflate the blindness with “uncleanness”.


#11

Hey again!

It would easily conflate blindness with uncleaness, but that was the whole point of midrashic interpretation (especially with the legal halakhah version of midrash), which ties the whole canon (or what was the canon at that time) together in search of deeper meanings. A Sadducee would come along saying “these things render a person unclean so that he can’t enter the Temple,” but the Pharisee would say “not just those alone, but also blindness and lameness!” What was Divinely revealed, even in a story about David that is not the most important thing in relation to the Davidic Covenant, suddenly became a blueprint for moral order.

We know that uncleaness was a state symbolically related to the death that is idolatry. But the reason given as to why blindness too would render one unclean, I would guess, is just because of a deeper interpretation of Scripture. Not fair, however, to innocent blind people, eh? Maybe this interpretation is to remind the people just how hard they had to fight to possess Jerusalem to gain the Temple Mount, and to fulfill Moses’ will in Deuteronomy. Maybe it was to remind the people of how God had blessed them in times passed with great small “m” messiahs, and this reminder was to sustain their hope for the Ultimate Messiah to come…therefore, sadly, blind people had to be made an example of. This would be an interpretation purely made to serve the primary purpose of making a pedagogical point (which midrash can also do). But this is only my own quick guess on the matter.


#12

Correction: instead of “We know that uncleaness was a state symbolically related to the death that is idolatry,” I meant to say “We know that uncleaness was a symbolic state related to the death that is idolatry.”

God Bless


#13

Well, if this is true, then I’m back to wondering if Jesus issues his stern admonition to tell no one of their cure simply to make the point that they needed no ritual cleaning. A person living in the days of the temple would instinctively know that they’d need a priest’s approval that they were worthy of becoming sacramentally clean. I think that people regularly exercised the ritual of cleaning. To follow the command to “tell no one” would mean no cleaning could happen as the “Son of David” essentially made it impossible.

It makes sense, actually, as it is Jesus attacking something that the Pharisees made up - something that creates an unnecessary blockade to access God through the temple.

For the Thanksgiving Day readings, there was the story of the 10 lepers that were cured. Only 1 returned to give thanks - and that was the Samaritan. What were the other 9 doing? Going through the 3 day cleaning process, I’d guess. (Luke 17:11-19)


#14

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