Alan Taylor Farnes and Dr. Thomas Wayment, Religious Education
I unfortunately was not able to complete this specific research project on diacritical marks but rather applied these funds to my honors thesis. Therefore, my report will focus on the results and experiences of my honors thesis which also had a substantial mentoring element from Dr. Wayment.
My report is called “The Parable of the Unforgiving Slave (Matthew 18:23–35).” The thesis wrestles with the astronomical figure of 10,000 talents found in verse 24. The slave in this story owes μυρίων ταλάντων (generally translated as 10,000 talents). It stands to question why a slave would owe 10,000 talents and why he would even be lent that extraordinary amount of money. If one talent is equal to 6,000 drachmai, and if we accept that a drachma is a day’s wage for a laborer, then this slave owes his creditor 60,000,000 drachmai, or 60,000,000 days of work. This would take him 191,693 years to pay off if he earns a drachma a day, if 100 percent of his earnings are put toward the debt, and if there is no interest.
In order to solve this dilemma I, in conversation with Joachim Jeremias, J. Duncan M. Derrett, Martinus C. de Boer, and others, employ a papyrological method in order to show that Matthew did most likely inflate the figure. Jeremias uses Bedouin information to inform our parable. Derrett finds a parallel between our parable and Josephus’ story of Joseph the tax collector. DeBoer, through source criticism and textual criticism, pioneers the idea that a pre-Matthean source contained 10,000 denarii rather than 10,000 talents. I have also employed source criticism in demonstrating a Lucan parallel with this Matthean parable that suggests Matthean inflation of the figure. Historical criticism is also used to compare the figure in Matthew 18 with the financial crisis of 33 C.E. I suggest that Matthew inserts this amount in order to speak directly to, and to condemn, Tiberius and his actions during the financial crisis in which Tiberius loans 4,166 talents to authorities in order to alleviate the empire’s economic crisis. I discuss an alternate meaning for μυρίων ταλάντων and conclude that 4,166 talents could indeed be understood as μυρίων ταλάντων (or “zillions” of talents). Along with my papyrological evidence, I have compared Plutarch’s and Josephus’s figures with the number found in Matthew 18. Plutarch’s average is 3,100 talents per occurrence of the word and Josephus’ is 1,888 talents, while the papyri’s average is 47. Perhaps this suggests that the real numbers on the ground were much smaller than recorded by our ancient historians. I conclude that Matthew does most likely inflate the amount to μυρίων ταλάντων in order to comment on Tiberius’ actions and that this claim is supported by the Lucan parallel and papyrological data.
This paper has been accepted to present this paper at the Regional Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) annual meeting (March 23-24, Provo, Ut) and the National Conference of Undergraduate Research (March 29-31, Ogden, Ut). I will also submit it for presentation at the National SBL meeting to be held this November in Chicago. After receiving all of this criticism, I will then submit it for publication.
Much of this project included compiling the exhaustive appendices of all the occurrences of the word talent in papyri, Plutarch, and Josephus. This was a difficult and time consuming process. The section concerning the papyri pushed my Greek skills to the limit as most of the papyri have not been translated into English (the descriptions of the papyri also pushed my German skills to the limit).
After working for countless hours, while reading a commentary about Augustan coinage by Kenneth W. Harl I read: “More helpful are the measures emperors took to restore the money supply. Tiberius ended the financial panic of 33 [C.E.] when he provided bankers an interest-free loan of 25 million denarii to restore liquidity to the capitals money market without increasing production of new coins.”1 After realizing that 25 million denarii equaled 4,166 talents, suddenly I had an epiphany. I found the connection. Matthew uses μυρίων ταλάντων, or as I translate it, a zillion talents, to comment on the deplorable state of financial affairs and Tiberius’ horrendous actions. After working on the project for a year I finally had the breakthrough that I needed to finish the project. After placing this last puzzle piece, the rest was simply writing it out and supplementing it with secondary scholarship.
The conclusions did not turn out as I had expected. I expected to find that Matthew did indeed inflate the figure and that the slave in question owed a far smaller amount. What I found was that Matthew did inflate his source which was indeed a small amount but he based his inflated number on a historical event.
Areas of further research may include reading the entire gospel of Matthew through what I call economic criticism—reading the gospel in light of the financial crisis. Where else does Matthew comment on the financial crisis in his gospel?
In the end this was a wonderful project that I grew from and has helped me immensely. Concerning the diacritical marks, I do intend to tackle that project—perhaps as a Masters Thesis.