The speculation I am about to propose over the Fifth Discourse of the Gospel according to Matthew, which includes chapters 23 to 25, is based on the following:
1. Up to the time that Babylon destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE, the nation was dominantly polytheist. Leading up to that period, the tiny monotheist “Yahweh-alone” gradually exerted increasing influence. When the monarchy was overthrown and the masses decimated, the influence of the literate monotheists came to the fore. They created their own version of the nation’s history, and they laid the blame for the nation’s captivity, dispersion and the destruction of the temple at the feet of those who had opposed the monotheist’s preachers and prophets. Yahweh had caused the temple’s destruction because the people had not listened to the message given by the true religious leaders.
2. During the oppression of Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century BCE, Jewish leaders wrote coded messages of support to give strength and resolve to their people. They formulated the writings known as the Book of Daniel. Writing about past history as if it had been prophesied, the book’s coded messages were aimed against Antiochus Epiphanes. Similarly in the companion Book of Revelation, coded messages of support were given to John’s churches against their oppressors, the Roman Empire.
3. The Matthew gospel was written about 15 years after Jerusalem had been sacked by the Romans, its temple destroyed, and the people dispersed. The people who wrote that gospel had been the Jesus-followers who, unlike Paul, had been based in Jerusalem. Their experience was similar to that of the Babylonian captives.
Now to my speculative thoughts on Matthew chapters 23 to 25.
1. The writers of Matthew blamed the destruction of the temple by the Romans and their expulsion as being punishment by God. Their string of condemnations of the Pharisees at Matthew 23 represents the sentiment of the writers, which they put into Jesus’ mouth. (Writing 50 years or more after Jesus had lived, no gospel writer had personally experienced him.) At the end of their tirade against the Pharisees sect, the writers declared: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! … Your house is left to you, desolate.” (Matt 22:37-38, NRSV)
2. For example, speaking obliquely to the Pharisees, the writers claim:
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 23:21-23, NRSV)
3. When “predicting” the signs of the temple’s destruction, “Jesus” tells them that it would not happen because they heard stories about disasters. These had always happened since the birth. The sign they seek happens when certain ones called themselves “Anointed”. My speculation is that the writers were aiming at the Pharisees sect (Jesus was a Nazarene), using code in the fashion that is used by the other apocalypses, Daniel and Revelation.
4. Jesus then predicts the punishing they had experienced.
I hang my speculative skeleton out to blow in the wind. Do the parables that the writers accumulated within this context hang together with my speculation? I have not given any thought to that. Perhaps in time I will.